River levels at 'record lows' amid search for new sources of water
Irish Water is seeking new sources of drinking water for at-risk communities as river levels reach record lows.
The utility has been forced to dig a new borehole at Bennettsbridge in Co Kilkenny over recent weeks, is seeking new sources across Co Laois due to dwindling supplies, and revealed it is transporting water for 35,000 people every day in areas where treatment plants cannot meet local demand.
New data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also shows that major rivers supplying large urban areas - including the Liffey in Dublin, Nore in Co Kilkenny, Deel in Co Limerick and Feale in Co Cork - are at or approaching record low levels.
Results from 194 monitoring stations across rivers, lakes and groundwater sources show that 56pc of gauges, or 108, are approaching record lows. These are highlighted in red on the map. Another 20 are approaching the so-called 95th percentile - this means that for 95pc of the time, the flows are above this level. This indicates they are at low levels.
Unless substantial amounts of rainfall are seen, restrictions may have to be imposed later in the year, the EPA said. Weeks of drought conditions have forced Irish Water to introduce a national hosepipe ban and introduce night-time restrictions across much of Dublin and Co Wicklow. Restrictions are also in place across 40 schemes in 12 counties.
But the utility has warned supplies are at "historic low levels" in many parts of the south, including Clonakilty, Schull and Bantry in west Co Cork, in east and west Co Limerick, and south and west Co Clare in particular.
"These schemes will remain on severe drought watch indefinitely, based on current water levels," it said.
The lack of rainfall over recent weeks has also forced Irish Water to tanker water into areas at risk of losing supply, to replenish raw water sources, reservoirs or treatment plants.
Some 35,000 people served by 20 schemes in counties Kilkenny, Limerick, Wicklow, Cork, Waterford, Carlow, Tipperary and Clare are reliant on this water for their daily needs.
"We are looking at new water sources, but it's only an interim solution to supplement what's already there," an Irish Water spokesperson said. "A few weeks ago, things were very critical with the farming community (in Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny) and we dug a borehole and put a larger pump on it. It's not a solution everywhere. We're also looking at Castlecomer and a number of schemes in Laois as well.
"It's not just about new boreholes, it's looking at the efficacy of the ones that are there, and seeing if they need bigger or improved pumps as well."
The utility has also been forced to transport effluent from four wastewater treatment plants to other locations to be safely disposed of. This is because the river levels have fallen so low that discharging treated wastewater would cause environmental pollution, affecting wildlife. The affected plants are at Tyrellspass, Co Westmeath; Castlemartyr, Co Cork; Dromcollogher, Co Limerick; and Tinure, Co Louth.
Data from the EPA shows that while lane and ground water levels are not "significantly" unusual for this time of year, they are falling. However, river flows are low and continue to fall, and are at levels usually seen in late August.
Irish Water could be forced to find new sources and dig boreholes in Co Cork, Co Kerry and Co Limerick unless the rains come, the EPA's Matthew Craig said.
"The initial bursts of rain are going to have little impact," he said. "It will take substantial amounts of rain to change that. It could be late September or October."
For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App