MORE than 1.5 million people face having their water supply cut off for up to 13 hours from today because of serious problems at the country's biggest treatment plant.
The shortages come as a senator warns that Dublin and Leinster are “literally running out of water”.
Senator John Whelan told RTE Radio’s Morning Ireland today that the government must form a strategy to build the €540million Garrhinch Reservoir, near Portarlington in Laois - or a fiasco will develop.
“Dublin and Leinster are literally running out of water,” he warned.
He said “housing estate upon housing estate” was built in the boom, but the government did not match this housing boom with an important strategy on water supply.
It would be “foolish and unacceptable” for the government to proceed with water charges next year, without having a sustainable plan for water supply in place, he said.
The Labour senator urged the government to “appoint a project manager so that we can build a reservoir”. Otherwise, the areas of Dublin and Leinster will have a “fiasco”, he said.
The government’s top priority must be to form a strategy with Bord na Mona and Dublin City Council to address the water shortages, he said.
His warning comes as it emerged that supplies for Dublin and the surrounding area are down 70 million litres on the 540 million needed to keep taps in homes and businesses flowing each day.
Chemists have been flown in from the UK to solve the treatment issue that is crippling water supplies to the capital.
Dublin City Council said supplies could be cut off today from 6pm until 7am – two hours longer than yesterday – and that restrictions will remain until Monday. The shut-off comes during a busy mid-term week when Dublin is bustling with tourists and Halloween revellers, with many bonfires planned for tonight – the busiest time of the year for firefighters.
It has been described as an "embarrassment" as 9,000 of the world's top IT entrepreneurs descend on the city for a major summit.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny tried to make light of the problem when he attended the high-profile event at the RDS yesterday.
"It's been raining in Ireland for thousands of years," he said. "We've been well able to deal with shortages of water and surpluses of water. I hope this matter can be resolved quickly."
Householders preparing to pay water charges are furious they have to switch off the taps for long periods overnight.
The restrictions are in place as production at the Ballymore Eustace plant has been cut by 20pc since Tuesday, with 70 million fewer litres of clean water produced per day.
Unless the problem can be identified, they will remain in place until at least Monday.
"The problem is that the lake water is proving very difficult to treat – not because it's bad, but because of the characteristics of the water," city engineer Michael Phillips told the Irish Independent.
He said: "Normally, Ballymore Eustace is a stable environment because it's a big, deep lake. The fact that we got this change is also unusual.
"We have to slow down the whole works to guarantee safety. At the moment, we would see (restrictions lifted on) Monday but hope something happens before then.
"We'll review it on a daily basis and that could mean increasing the restrictions or reducing them. If our reservoirs get so low, we may not have a choice. I will have a look at it (this morning) and may have to make hard decisions."
The country's largest treatment plant serves 1.5 million people living in Dublin city and parts of Kildare and Wicklow.
Some 600,000 households and thousands of businesses will be hit with restricted supplies, but most homes should have 24 hours of storage in their attic tanks.
Council bosses insisted that there was no problem with the quality of the treated water or supplies. But firefighters warned that it could not come at a worse time for the fire service as it deals with one of the its busiest periods over Halloween.
Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association national chairman, John Kidd, said: "There is concern about the pressure that the water restrictions will put on the services over the coming nights.
"Clearly it will be a drain on existing resources because of the lack of access to mains water." And water-dependent businesses including restaurants and pubs have warned of the impact on their trade.
The Licensed Vintners' Association said publicans were "angry and disappointed" as it would be a "nightmare" for 740 pubs in Dublin city and county to operate without water.
Many of the city's hotels have large water-storage facilities on site, which should be enough to keep the facilities working during the nightly restrictions.
But the Dublin City Business Improvement District warned that the restrictions would hit the "evening time economy" with some businesses facing the possibility of running out of water.
It is the second time this year that the Dublin region has been hit by water rationing, after supplies were either cut off or seriously reduced at night seven months ago due to an algae bloom and leaks from pipes during a cold snap.
Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants' Association of Ireland, warned that there was "huge anger" out there and likened the water supply to one provided in the "Third World", with restrictions occurring every few months.
"Business owners are fed up paying all of these extra charges, increases in the rates bill, enough is enough," he said.
Politicians also criticised the restrictions, with Socialist TD Joe Higgins describing them as "farcical", while Labour TD Kevin Humphreys said they were "embarrassing".
But Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin confirmed that the roll-out of water metering would still go ahead.
However, he said it should be operated on an understanding that if "you don't get the service you don't pay for it".
The new state company, Irish Water, when it comes into place on January 1 next, will be given a "very significant capital budget" to ensure adequate water supply, the minister insisted.
Dublin City Council said nightly restrictions, involving loss of pressure and possible loss of supply, were needed to replenish treated water levels.
The council, which produces more than 500 million litres of drinking water a day, urged householders to restrict their use of water.
By Paul Melia and Louise Hogan