Wednesday 7 December 2016

Realpolitik means it's back to drawing board on water

Published 02/04/2015 | 02:30

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.

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).

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"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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