Commission's stance on wells could get nasty
Published 30/11/2011 | 06:00
Who actually owns the water beneath the ground? And should landowners have the right to sink wells to extract water without having to pay for it?
These are very pertinent questions in light of the accusation by the EU Commission that Ireland has "incorrectly" interpreted and implemented the Water Framework Directive.
The problems centre on the issue of private wells. A recent communication from the Commission to the Government appears to suggest that all groundwater is either owned by the State or, at the very least, the State has a duty to control its extraction.
It is unclear at this stage how the Commission's stance will impact on private well owners. A Department of Environment spokesman said officials were taking legal advice on the Commission's communication and that Ireland would continue to engage with Brussels to achieve a "satisfactory outcome".
However, achieving a "satisfactory outcome" to this particular problem may not be all that easy given the very fundamental issues at stake.
Already the imposition of water charges has provoked a lot of anger in rural areas.
The levying of multiple meter charges on fragmented farm holdings, particularly in the west and southwest, has been viewed as a stealth tax.
The fact that this metering service has been contracted out by local authorities to private water companies has added to the sense of resentment.