New household water bills as Gormley rolls out meters
WATER meters will start being installed in homes next year ahead of the introduction of water charges.
However, Environment Minister John Gormley yesterday said householders would not be billed for the charges by the next general election in mid-2012.
The rollout of water metering and charges will move a step closer in the next three weeks, when Mr Gormley brings a plan to Government for approval.
But the minister could not say when bills would start dropping through the postbox.
He said the charges would not be as high as the suggested €400 a year -- but failed to provide any alternative figure.
"Obviously it comes down to how much water you use," he said.
Houses will get a basic allocation for free and will pay for any extra water used on top of that.
The same charge is expected to be applied to every part of the country. Rural water scheme users, who already pay a fee for their water, will be exempt to avoid a double payment.
Mr Gormley said the public realised the need for water charges, despite the belt tightening among the so-called coping classes.
"This is about facing up to your responsibilities," he said.
He said he felt people were "realistic" about the need for water charges, even if they were "not particularly popular".
Putting meters in more than 1.1 million households will cost between €500m and €600m. The Government expects to spend about €250m a year, creating upwards of 2,500 jobs.
Local councils will group together to hire contractors to install meters in houses in their area. Alongside installing the water meters, another €300m will be spent on repairing leaky pipes.
Mr Gormley said that the point of introducing the water charges was to conserve water, by making people use less. When water charges were introduced in Britain, the amount of water used dropped by 16pc. However, there are already substantial amounts of water lost through leaks in pipes.
"The importance of measures to conserve our water resources and to use them wisely was brought home to us during the big freeze last January," he said.
"It does not make sense from an economic or environmental perspective to invest in expanding water treatment capacity if there is a significant loss of treated water in ageing or damaged networks," he added.
Mr Gormley unveiled details of a plan to upgrade water services across the country at a cost of more than €500m a year.
But some projects included in the previous plan have now been ditched, mainly because of the falloff in the construction of new houses.
Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan said there were no additional funds in Mr Gormley's announcement and water services needed reform.
The Labour Party said Mr Gormley's announcement was more bad news for families.
Labour environment spokeswoman Joanna Tuffy said her party believed the cost of providing an EU standard of water to every home in the State should be funded through a reformed tax system.