IRISH Water needs to invest as much as €600m a year for at least the next decade to "meet urgent needs" and bring the system up to standard.
The Dail Environment Committee heard today that the network was not “fit for purpose”, and that it would take decades to bring it to a level where leakage rates were reduced and safe drinking water guaranteed for customers.
Commercial semi-state Irish Water also said that it had to standardise how treatment plants were operated, and predicted it would reduce operating costs by €40m over the next 24 months through purchasing chemicals and materials centrally.
Managing director John Tierney also said there would be no “quick fixes”, and that a “long-term systematic and strategic approach” was needed to resolve the problem which affects some 1.8 million customers.
“We are critically dependent on some very old and vulnerable assets which have a high risk of failure”, he said. “We lose over 40pc of our treated water through leakage, twice the UK average and four times higher than the best performing European countries.
“More than 25pc of our waste water treatment plants failed to meet effluent standards in 2011 and we face major EU fines for non-compliance on 80 plants.”
This is the second appearance by Irish Water in front of the committee. Last month, the company defending spending on more than €80m on outside consultants to build IT systems needed to operate the network, and today’s appearance is designed to set out what is required to upgrade the system.
A number of key priority projects have been identified including fast-tracking the upgrading of plants in Roscommon where almost 19,000 are forced to boil water to make it safe for drinking.
In addition, a new water supply for Dublin will be delivered in seven instead of the proposed 10 years; the Ringsend waste water treatment plant will be upgraded and a new drainage scheme for the capital built.
Mr Tierney said much of the investment was needed because of “chronic underinvestment” in water services over the years. Local authorities had “struggled” to keep services going, and funding from capital markets would be needed to deliver the “enormous infrastructure deficit”.