Supplies of water could be off until weekend
TENS of thousands of households could be without fresh drinking water until Saturday despite rain being forecast for the rest of the week.
Many families have little or no water supplies because of record demand and burst pipes since the big freeze.
Local authorities across the country said the demand for water has exceeded available supply, which is now at a "critical" level.
Many local authorities have started to ration supplies because they say that some people are leaving taps running to stop pipes from freezing.
Problems are exacerbated by burst water mains caused by the thaw.
Environment Minister John Gormley said that councils were pleading with the public to conserve supplies.
"We've been informed that water is now the crucial issue," he said. "The councils are fixing burst mains and trying to get people to conserve. The councils report that demand is up 25pc and the majority is due to people letting their taps run.
"This (running taps) has traditionally been the response and has been the advice from some quarters but we do also have the issue of burst pipes."
A record amount of water was used in Dublin last week, and in Co Cork some 4,500 homes were left without running water yesterday for the second time in three months.
Householders across the country were forced to depend on stand pipes erected at water mains and water tankers.
City and county managers have urged householders to conserve water or face supplies being cut off.
Fingal Co Council, which has experienced widespread disruptions to supply over the past three days, said it "hoped" to have normal supplies by the end of the week.
But once the ice and snow melted, local authorities could find that mains buried underground had also ruptured which could delay the restoration of full services.
"We're hoping by the end of the week to have things back to normal," senior engineer Lar Spain said. "There's no doubt that people running their taps are contributing to the problem.
"The thaw should be finished in the next couple of days, and it's only when that's finished will we know the bursts that have occurred because of the frosts.
"I've no doubt there will be burst pipes that happened or will happen underground and they're the ones that are hard to find.
"This has been a major difficulty. In the Dublin region, we would consume 520-530 million litres a day, just before last weekend it reached 628 million litres per day which we have never gone to before."
Dublin City Council said there was no shortage of water and, while it was reducing pressure, the problem was compounded by 1,200kms of the city's 8,000kms of water mains being more than 100 years old and prone to cracking.
Persistent rain and conservation efforts meant Galway city was not badly hit, but the council said demand was now in excess of production.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey has said that local authorities are unlikely to have the costs of tackling the big freeze and water supply problems met by the Government.
City and county councils have racked up huge overtime bills and it is unclear as to who will meet the cost. While the Government would try to be "helpful", additional money was unlikely to be available.
"We will obviously listen to local authorities," he said. "80pc of roads maintenance comes from state grants. In the event I don't get extra money, which will be difficult, I will focus on repair and restoration. The NRA will also discuss costs with the local authorities. We have to work within budgets."
- Additional reporting by Brian McDonald and Shane Hickey