EU: Water fees up to Government

Measuring how much water is used by households is a basic pre-condition under EU rules, but how much to charge for water is up to the Government, according to the European Commission.

The clarification comes just before a massive protest planned for Dublin today that is making headlines around the globe.

It also coincides with the Government listing two projects for which they would like to win some EU funding to be used by Irish Water to provide a new water supply system and sewerage plant for Dublin.

The Government has complained to the troika over comments some troika members made when in Dublin about the State having to recover the cost of providing water following the Government’s climbdown by introducing flat fees.

Ireland is the last EU country to charge consumers for water and starting to do so was part of the troika programme laid out when the country had to borrow €67bn under the bailout.

But the response from Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella to independent MEP Nessa Childers supports the use of water meters — which will now not be used fully until January 2019.

Under the EU’s Water Framework Directive, each user must bear the cost of consuming water, and the cost must be an incentive to people to use water carefully.

The price charged must reflect the cost of getting and distributing water and of collecting and treating waste water.

Under the Government’s revised pricing policy Ireland at .37c a litre would have the cheapest water in the EU.

Anybody shown to use less water than they have paid for under the flat cost of €160 a year for two adults will be entitled to a rebate.

In calculating the cost countries charge consumers, countries can take account of social, environmental, and economic effects of water usage, the legislation says.

Ms Childers asked the European Commission to describe the various schemes, or methods allowed to EU states to comply with their legal obligation to recover the cost of water services under the legislation. She also asked if they could specify if the cost recovery for domestic users must be linked to individual consumption.

While Mr Vella’s written reply to Ms Childers says that there is no specific rule for the cost to be linked to how much a person uses, the commission believes there must be a clear link between the cost of the water and individual consumption.

“In this context, water metering seems to be a basic precondition for proper implementation of the Water Framework Directive,” the commissioner’s reply says.

Ms Childers said the response indicated that Ireland did not have to apply individualised domestic water charges to comply with the legislation.

She said she was perplexed about reports that the Government would formally submit a plan to include domestic water chargers under the water plans, and that she has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to clarify this.

“I strongly recommend that we reserve the option to design our water services funding to suit our needs in Ireland,” she said.

The commission said that while countries were not obliged to adopt particular schemes or methods when regulating water usage and costs, there were methods for calculating cost recovery for water services, and they were being further developed.

For example, the Commission was working on providing further guidance on how to assess the costs associated with the environment and the resource of water itself.

Ms Childers said she supported the idea of having a referendum to protect water as a public good under the Constitution as she feared the current moves were a first step towards privatisation.

She also welcomed that the Government hoped to get some money from the EU’s new investment fund to upgrade the services.

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