John Power, director general of Engineers Ireland, made the comments after figures released by Irish Water revealed that most councils across the country are losing at least 40% of their water to leakages.
The statistics — released to RTÉ under the Access to Information on the Environment regulations — show that local authorities in Cork city and county, Kerry, Laois, Mayo, Tipperary and Roscommon, are losing more than half of their water supply, with Roscommon losing 62% of its supply to leaks.
Speaking as Engineers Ireland launched its report ‘The State of Ireland 2015 — a review of infrastructure’, Mr Power said the huge loss of water is down to years of underinvestment in the network, and that politicians are to blame for failing to allocate adequate resources to the water supply.
“The local authorities have done a tremendous job providing the service they did up until recently. Given the level of investment in water, local authorities have been pilloried unjustly for the service they provided,” Mr Power said.
The ‘State of Ireland’ report includes a recommendation that the level of ‘unaccounted for water’, or leakages, be reduced from 50% nationally to 30% over the next five years.
Mr Power, however, said even that figure is ambitious given the information that is now emerging from Irish Water.
“When Irish Water came along it was the first time ever that we were beginning to see the damage done through the lack of investment.
“The more we see the problems that are there, the more we think that maybe a reduction to 38% over five years is fairer, and even that would be a stretching target for Irish Water,” he said.
“A reduction to 38% of supply lost to leaks would be a 25% improvement on the current rate and would be a significant achievement in an environment that is not easy. Unfortunately Irish Water has had a difficult time in its embryonic stages, but it has good people in there.
“They have very, very difficult targets ahead that will require a significant level of investment,” Mr Power said.
However Sinn Féin environment spokesperson Brian Stanley said the level of leakages across Ireland in 2014 “proves that Irish Water is failing to tackle deficiencies”.
“We were told the new entity would both prove to be more cost efficient and would quickly address the issue of massive leaks within the system.
“I have said, from day one, if even half of what has been spent to date on Irish Water, including executive bonuses, consultants and legal advisers, had been spent on addressing leaks and other structural problems it would have been money better spent,” Mr Stanley said.