The State’s environmental watchdog is considering enforcement action against Irish Water over drinking water supplies in parts of East Cork.
A recent audit by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found ongoing issues with the Whitegate regional public water supply which provides drinking water to over 9,500 consumers in Whitegate, Aghada, Ballycotton, Cloyne, Shanagarry, and Ballinacurra.
A boil water scheme was issued in the area on January 31 and remained in place until March 5. It was the sixth issued in the last five years, including one which lasted almost eight months in 2016.
The Whitegate supply has been added to the EPA's remedial action list, which includes the supplies with the most serious deficiencies.
An audit into recent problems with the supply said the current level of treatment at the Kilva water treatment plant cannot adequately treat increased levels of turbidity (cloudiness) in the water, which occurs following heavy rainfall.
Although the plant automatically shut down on January 30 after an alarm was triggered by a deterioration in the raw water quality which prevented consumers from receiving inadequately treated water, the audit said the plant operators were unaware of the problem as no text alert was sent out.
Supplies to the Whitegate Refinery were switched to a nearby plant in Cloyne to maintain adequate levels in the Kilva reservoir.
However, problems persisted over the next 48 hours due to turbidity levels exceeding recommended limits as supplies reached a critically low level in the reservoir, and the boil water notice was issued following consultation with the HSE.
Following consultation with the HSE, a decision was taken to bring the plant back into operation under a boil water notice in order to maintain a supply to consumers.
The audit revealed a caretaker was not alerted to a second automatic shutdown until eight hours after the event which contributed to a loss of storage in the reservoir and the need for the boil water notice.
An investigation by Cork County Council identified the reason for the failure of a text alert to be triggered while pointing out that plant shutdowns had operated correctly during the incidents in January.
The EPA reported that the issue with the text alert to the plant operators has been rectified.
However, the audit said Irish Water had failed to comply with a direction issued by the EPA in December 2019 to commission a suitable coagulation dosing system to treat water going through the Whitegate regional supply by the end of February 2020.
Tests on a coagulation dosing system last August proved inconclusive, which led Irish Water to state that it no longer proposed to proceed with that stage of the treatment process.
Irish Water said it was currently investigating a programme of interim and long-term works to improve the resilience of the supply, including the installation of booster pumps and pressure release valves.
They include options for the installation of additional booster pumps and pressure relief valves to allow consumers to be provided with water from adjacent supplies.
The company said this would increase storage levels at the Kilva plant which would allow it to shut down for longer periods when there are high turbidity levels without impacting consumers.
For longer-term measures, Irish Water is examining alternatives sources and new treatment processes.
The company said it hoped to provide updates on its longer-term plans to improve drinking water supplies from the Whitegate regional supply by the end of June.