Water supply: Clean water right denied to many

The revelation that 121 water treatment plants countrywide are operating way below an acceptable standard is a cause of great concern and highlights the current poor state of water supply in Ireland.

Almost one million people are at risk of drinking unclean water - a shocking situation in any developed country. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, significant investment is needed to address quality issues.

In a report yesterday on the nation’s drinking water, The EPA said those 121 supplies are at risk due to inadequate disinfection and water management systems.

Many families know what it is like to have to live with dirty water. Seasonal boil water notices are, sadly, commonplace but in some places it occurs all year round.

In Co Roscommon alone, 22,000 people using 20 public water supplies remain affected by such notices and some of them have been in that position for years. That means the daily drudgery of having to boil water for drinking, washing vegetables and brushing teeth.

Given the current state of the water supply network, the future looks no brighter. Commenting on the vulnerable nature of many schemes, the EPA’s director of environmental enforcement, Gerard O’Leary, said the situation “masks the specific and serious problems occurring in some supplies and the significant risk of future problems”.

Irish Water has promised to change all that and says it expects to reduce the number of water treatment plants requiring serious upgrading to below 100 this year. That is all very well, but, just like political promises in the past, Irish Water seems to be short on specifics.

Water schemes requiring immediate remedial work include the Cork city supply where no date has been given for improvements. There is a similar situation at the other end of the country in Donegal while Dublin has some of the worst supplies nationwide.

An unstable 150-year-old tunnel from the Vartry reservoir in the Wicklow mountains that supplies one fifth of drinking water in Dublin was identified more than seven years ago as being at risk of collapse.

The likelihood of that happening remains, despite promises made by then minister for the environment Phil Hogan that the situation would be tackled.

It is worth remembering that a report issued last December by the EPA found that almost a quarter of Ireland’s largest waste water treatment plants are not meeting EU standards.

It is also worth remembering that the EU has taken proceedings against Ireland for failures to implement in full the 1991 Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.

Irish Water acknowledges that remedial work is urgently needed but insists that most of the €2.3 billion cost of repairs must come from consumers. Access to clean drinking water is not just a matter of convenience - it is a human right. The people of Ireland need to have confidence in the water in their homes and it is time for Irish Water to live up to its promise and deliver. Action, not words, is what we need now.


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