Farm Ireland

Saturday 17 March 2018

massive disparity in nation's water bills hard to swallow

Farmers in some areas footing charges four times higher than counterparts as rural leaks send rates soaring

Neil Brady and Darragh McCullough

A survey by the Farming Independent shows a huge variation in water rates between county councils, with prices varying by more than 70pc across the country and standing charges differing by a massive 400pc.

The best-value water is supplied by Kildare County Council, which charges users 82c/m3. The next cheapest water is in Fingal and Louth at a cost of 90c/m3 (see table 1, right).

At the other end of the scale are counties Meath and Wicklow, which are charging over 70pc more than their mutual neighbour Kildare. At €1.42/m3, Meath is the most expensive in the country, but Wicklow and Donegal are hot on their heels with rates of €1.41/m3 and €1.35/m3 respectively.

The disparity in standing charges is even more marked between the local authorities. The €200 annual charge imposed by Limerick is exactly four times that of Monaghan, which also happens to have lower usage charges. Average standing charges nationally were closer to €105 a year.

The gradual increase in water charges has left farmers still dependent on mains supplies with serious charges to cover on an annual basis.

A modest-sized beef farmer with 75 livestock units or 50 cows in Meath will be facing a bill of more than €2,200 for his water this year. This is even before an additional standing charge of €93 has been paid.

Dairy farmers are in an even worse situation with a 60-cow farmer paying nearly €4,000 a year on average (see table 2, right). In this enterprise, with the higher daily demand for water, location becomes crucial with the same sized farmer saving more than €2,000 a year depending on what local authority he buys his water from. Sheep farmers in the traditional sheep farming counties of Wicklow and Donegal don't get away lightly either, with water usage and standing charges coming to more than €500 a year.

Despite combined water charges for 'water in' and 'water out' decreasing across the country over the past 12 months, two county councils decided to raise their prices.

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Farmers and businesses in Mayo had a hike of 11c/m3 while those in Roscommon had to bear the brunt of a 33c/m3 or a 14pc increase. This is in sharp contrast with Wicklow County Council, which dropped its prices by a significant 26pc.

Local Authorities are precluded from making a profit on water charges under EU law. Therefore, the rates should directly reflect the cost of disinfecting, fluoridating and delivering the treated water.

However, one major issue affecting the rates that we pay for water in Ireland is the high levels of 'unaccounted for water'. This is largely made up of water leakages from the network and has been reported as as high as 59pc in Roscommon in 2008.

A report compiled by Forfás in 2008 found that 43pc of the treated water produced in major towns is actually lost before it reaches the final consumer.

UCD's Professor Frank Convery believes that unaccounted for water does contribute to inflated water rates.

"For this reason, water does tend to be more expensive in rural counties simply because of the cost of identifying where all the leaks are," he said. "It's back to the law of diminishing returns."

The figures used above for water consumption are those issued by Teagasc. They are 100l/day/dairy cow, 60l/day/600kg beef cattle, 25l/day/300kg yearling, 12l/day/ewe, and 6l/day/lamb. The figures for wash down for dairy are 37l/wash/unit in milking parlour, bulk tank at 70l/ wash, yard wash down at 45l/cow every other day. The figures for beef and sheep wash down are those issued by DEFRA. They are 20l/LU/year for both beef and sheep

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