Independent review urged of Shannon pipeline plan

Calls have been made for an independent review of Irish Water’s plans to spend €1.3bn building a system to pump drinking water from the Shannon to the greater Dublin area.

Independent review urged of Shannon pipeline plan

Irish Water rejected the review proposal, arguing that An Bord Pleanála would independently scrutinise the project when it went for planning permission. Objectors, however, said the board’s remit was too restricted.

Consultant Emma Kennedy, who has done research on behalf of opponents of the plans, told the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning, and Local Government that their concerns were based on Irish Water’s rationale.

Ms Kennedy said Irish Water needed to fix the leaks causing Dublin’s water shortages. “It made no sense to pump 330m litres of water, daily, 170km to Dublin, only for more than half of it to be lost through leaks,” she said.

Ms Kennedy and Irish Water disagree on the extent of the leaks. Irish Water says 37% of the water supplied to Dublin — mainly from the River Liffey — is lost through leaks in its network. It says it cannot be sure how much more is lost through leaks from customers’ own pipes, but it may be a further 5-7%.

Ms Kennedy maintains customer leaks represent 19% of the water loss, which would mean a total loss of 56%. “If leakage was much-reduced, you would essentially have a whole new source of water,” she said.

She claimed Irish Water was too dismissive of the alternative of drilling for groundwater, which, she said, was abundant in Dublin and in surrounding counties. However, she added: “An Bord Pleanála can only consider planning, development, and environmental issues. None of our case can get a fair hearing there.”

Jerry Grant, Irish Water’s managing director, said sourcing groundwater was not a solution. “You might get half a million litres from a borehole here and there, but there is no major water supply available in groundwater for the greater Dublin area.”

Sinn Fein’s Eoin Ó Broin said he was concerned about Dublin’s water problems, but he had significant questions about Irish Water’s proposed solution, concerns not clarified by the different information being received from Irish Water and Ms Kennedy.

“Surely, an independent assessment would be a sensible course of action,” he said.

Independent TD, Mattie McGrath, was also concerned about the disparities in the details provided by both sides and asked what further review would be carried out.

“In almost every project of this size, there are huge over-runs and underestimating of costs,” he said, and he urged independent oversight.

The fragile state of Dublin’s water supply was set out by Mr Grant, who also addressed questions about Irish Water’s readiness to deal with national emergencies, such as Storm Emma, which caused major disruption to supplies.

He said if the storm had come in January, when the ground was already at very low temperatures, there would have been a “major crisis” in Dublin.

Emma Kennedy, of Kennedy Analysis, during a River Shannon Protection Alliance pres briefing at Buswells Hotel, Dublin, on Irish Water’s proposal to extract water from the River Shannon. Picture: Gareth Chaney
Emma Kennedy, of Kennedy Analysis, during a River Shannon Protection Alliance pres briefing at Buswells Hotel, Dublin, on Irish Water’s proposal to extract water from the River Shannon. Picture: Gareth Chaney

As it was, some 400,000 people were left with reduced or no supplies. He said the problem was not just with old, worn pipes bursting, but with the vast network of pipes installed during the building boom by developers, who laid them just two or three inches below the soil top, instead of the two feet that was necessary to insulate them from frost.

‘Whatever it takes, it is not going to happen’

Farming organisations have thrown their weight behind objectors to the Shannon-Dublin pipeline plan.

The Irish Farmers Association said they have received calls from farmers concerned about how their land and livelihoods would be affected by the project.

Around 500 individual landowners have so far been identified by Irish Water as likely to be affected if the 170km long pipeline is built.

Tom Cooney, chairman of the IFA’s National Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, told a press conference that farmers were facing compulsory purchase orders, loss of land use, damage to natural drainage, devaluation of their property and restrictions on future planning.

“We share the view that the implications of the project have not been fully explored,” he said. He said the money would be better spent tackling the many problems facing rural Ireland.

Patrick Kent, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, said his association was “inundated” with calls from concerned members.

He said there was already serious mismanagement of the Shannon and this new project would only add to the problems. “It’s a vanity project as far as we can see,” he said.

He said the concerns would not be erased by compensation. “Invariably, one or two farmers might take the money but as for everybody else, they do not want a pipeline of that nature and absolutely monstrous size going through their land.”

Liam Minehan of the Fight The Pipe campaign, farms in Tipperary and said he would be particularly badly affected by the pipeline. “It will rule out me milking,” he said.

“I could grin and bear it if I thought it was necessary but not for a CPO to take water to a city that doesn’t need it,” he said.

Mr Minehan said no plans had been made yet for protests but he did not rule out active opposition to the project. “Whatever it takes, it [the pipeline] is not going to happen.”

Carol Nolan, Sinn Féin TD for Offaly, said there was very strong feeling about the pipeline locally. She said there was anger that there was money for a project of questionable value when local communities were losing GP services.

She said Irish Water was putting the cart before the horse by seeking to increase the water supply to Dublin without repairing the city’s leaking pipes first. “This is money that is going to be poured down the drain,” she said.

Limerick councillor John Gilligan stressed the opposition was not based on a Dublin versus the rest of the country rivalry.

“I have no problem with Dublin having a good water supply. I have a problem about wasting money and I have a problem about wasting water,” he said.

The press conference was called by the River Shannon Protection Alliance, the Fight the Pipe campaign, and consultant, Emma Kennedy. Ms Kennedy later met with TDs from several parties at a briefing session organised by Independent TD Mattie McGrath.

Alliance chairman, Gerry Siney, said the campaign, which began 10 years ago when the idea of piping water to Dublin from the Shannon began to be seriously considered, was beginning to gather pace.

He warned that with a general election likely within the year, TDs would be asked to take a stand and the project would be made an election issue.

More in this section