PAUL MELIA – 16 AUGUST 2013
MORE than 280,000 people will be forced to pay for water from potentially unsafe sources when charges are introduced.
Major upgrades of plants in Dublin, Wicklow, Kerry, Kilkenny, Meath and Roscommon are not expected to be completed until as late as December 2022, more than seven years after bills land in people’s homes.
And, almost one million are currently drinking water from supplies which require urgent upgrading.
Some 960,000 people draw water from plants which are not removing dangerous bugs, including cryptosporidium and E-coli.
Other problems include plants not being properly managed or needing to be replaced, or where excessive levels of chemicals are found in water, including aluminium and the potentially carcinogenic THMs.
The varying standards in the effectiveness of our drinking water treatment plants was highlighted after more than 1,100 people fell ill from cryptosporidium and E-coli last year.
Many infections are transmitted through unsafe water, and figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show the number of people getting sick is on the rise, with 493 cases in 2010 and 712 in 2011.
The data comes just weeks after the first water meter was installed in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Some 1.1 million will be installed over the next three years, and charges will be introduced in January 2015.
It is not clear if the water regulator – the Commission for Energy Regulation – will exempt householders from charges if they live in areas where plants are not up to standard. Sources said that Irish Water, which will take responsibility for the network from next year, would have to ensure that water was safe to drink and met EU standards.
“We’re going to have to take responsibility for those (sub-standard plants). We’re going to have to meet all obligations that are associated with them. If the water is unsafe, it won’t be delivered to you,” a source said.
The data shows that some 155 supplies across the country are due to be upgraded.
In some cases, works have been completed but the EPA is awaiting confirmation that the plants are now operating to standard.
But works on 24 will not be completed until as late as December 2022, serving a population of 280,280. Eight are in Wicklow and six are in Kerry.
The data, contained in a document known as the Remedial Action List, also shows:
* The vast bulk of the upgrading works are needed in Kerry, where 37 plants are not up to standard.
* It is followed by Galway (18), Wicklow (13), a dozen each in Cork, Waterford and Donegal and 10 in South Tipperary.
* Issues range from how the plant is managed, to the need for new infrastructure.
* They serve populations between 10 and 130,000 people.
* Some 300 treatment plants have already been upgraded under the Water Services Investment Programme.
The EPA said the problem was most acute on the west coast.
Irish Water says it expects to invest €600m over the coming years in refurbishment works, new treatment plants and replacement of water mains.
The Department of the Environment said the EPA data showed the extent of the problem and the level of investment needed.
It added that because a public water supply was on the list did not mean the water produced was unsafe to drink.