Wednesday 20 September 2017

Realpolitik means it's back to drawing board on water

A water protester outside the Labour Party National Conference in Killarney in February.
A water protester outside the Labour Party National Conference in Killarney in February.
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

A year ago, I asked a retired public servant and former CEO of a large energy utility PLC for his opinion on Irish Water (IW).

"It makes no sense, it'd be better to leave revenue collection and water services with local authorities, while introducing charges." I was taken aback. I assumed the commercial rationale of a single, unified, commercial, state company would have benefits of scale, synergy and efficiency. I fear my initial reasoning (and the Government's) is flawed and unsustainable.

The provision of adequate water and nationwide waste treatment is the greatest infrastructural challenge the country faces. €17.5bn is required over 25 years to provide quality drinking water for our growing population, which by 2021 means an extra 90,000 new houses; 23,000 households currently endure 'boiled water notices'. The EPA reckons 940,000 are at risk of contaminated water supply. Lead pipes and leaks are endemic. The Eastern/Midlands region requires a 50pc increase in capacity over 35 years. Previous water outages in Dublin cost the economy €78m per day. Rhetorical notions of free water are absurd in the context the of unavoidable future costs. The challenges posed by our water/effluent are greater than infrastructural provision of a national primary road network or broadband roll-out.

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