Up to 1.4 million people facing water cut-offs this summer
Risk of first summer restrictions in 15 years due to low rainfall
UP to 1.4 million people face the prospect of water restrictions this summer for the first time in almost 15 years.
Homes and businesses in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow face night-time cut-offs and a loss of pressure unless they start conserving water now, Dublin City Council warned yesterday.
Just 120 days' supply is in storage due to low levels of rainfall this year. Normally about 150 days of untreated water would be held in reserve at reservoirs in Poulaphouca, Roundwood and Boherna-breena which serve the city and surrounding counties.
Water has not been rationed during summer months since 1997, although there have been restrictions during winter.
As yet, there are no plans to impose measures such as a ban on using water for cleaning cars or watering plants.
"March and April were very dry, and while May rainfall was about average, the ground had dried up so much we didn't get much back into storage," senior Dublin city engineer Brian Smyth told the Irish Independent.
"As the weather gets warmer, demand increases and there's a potential problem coming down the road. We just want people to be sensitive about use.
"While there is no immediate need to impose restrictions, they may be unavoidable if the dry spell continues and if demand for water increases."
The warning comes as Met Eireann said people can expect a dry and sunny weekend, with temperatures hitting highs of 24C today. There will be no rain until at least Monday, forecaster Vincent O'Shea said.
Met Eireann data shows that while rainfall in February and May was above average, it was well below expected levels in January (down 40pc), March (down 50pc) and April (down 40pc). What little rain fell was absorbed into the ground, resulting in little run-off from the catchment into the water reservoirs.
Other counties have also warned that they are monitoring reservoir levels closely.
Wexford County Council said that although levels in some reservoirs were "very low" for this time of year, it did not expect shortages.
Waterford and Cork cities said supplies were adequate, while Galway city said it was monitoring the situation.
Storage in Co Sligo is sufficient to meet demand, while Westmeath said there was less water than this time last year in one of its main sources, Lough Owel.
"There is no threat at the moment but we're monitoring it," spokesman Morgan Cox said.
Dublin City Council supplies water to the four local authorities in the capital -- Dublin, South Dublin, Fingal and Dun Laoghaire -- as well as to large parts of Kildare and Wicklow. It serves 1.4 million people and businesses.
For the last two winters, freezing temperatures have ruptured pipes and left tens of thousands of homes without a supply, but not since 1997 have summer restrictions been imposed.
Climate change experts have warned that Ireland can expect to experience wetter winters and drier summers as a result of global warming, meaning that shortages could become more common.
Local authorities have powers to impose a hosepipe ban which would compel people to stop watering the garden, washing their cars or fill paddling pools. On-the-spot fines of €125 can be imposed.
Dublin City Council said it was letting people know about the problem early, so that they could save water and avoid restrictions over the coming months.
The council produces 540 million litres of water every day, and has spent €50m since 2007 upgrading water mains to prevent leakage.
Some 30pc of water is lost in the city through leaks every year, compared with a national average of about 40pc.