Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Well owners set to pay for private water extraction

Irish 'incorrect' in implementing directive

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Owners of wells could be forced to pay for all water extracted for private use under a strict interpretation of the EU Water Framework Directive.

The EU Commission informed the Government last week that Ireland had "incorrectly implemented" the directive and threatened to refer the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) within two months if Ireland failed to comply with the legislation.

A Commission statement said that Ireland's interpretation of the directive had been restricted to the introduction of water charges for public supplies and improving water quality.

However, the Commission said that it viewed water services as a "wider notion" that included the drilling of water wells for "agricultural, industrial or private consumption".

The issue has serious implications for more than 200,000 rural homeowners who use private wells for either their farm or domestic water supplies.

It is unclear how the Commission move will impact on well owners. Charges could be levied on a flat annual rate or the volume of water extracted may have to be metered and fees imposed accordingly.

The IFA has called on the Government to oppose the Commission's efforts to impose charges on private wells.

"The Commission's interpretation of the Water Framework Directive would place an unjustifiable burden on households in rural communities," said Pat Farrell, of the IFA's national environment committee.

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"Householders with water wells have already absorbed the financial outlay of drilling and operating the well. It would be wholly unfair to charge them again for the water," he said.


"Coming so soon after moves by the Department of the Environment to register septic tanks, this would be another financial body blow," he added.

A Department of Environment spokesman said officials were taking legal advice on the Commission's communication and that Ireland would continue to engage with Brussels to get "a satisfactory outcome".

Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden were also cautioned for being in breach of the directive.

The imposition of water charges and differences in water costs between local authorities has provoked huge public anger, particularly in the west and south.

The increase in water charges by local authorities has also led to renewed interest among farmers in the drilling of private wells.

This is particularly the case with beef finishers and dairy farmers. Water is now a major input cost, with an annual charge for an 80-cow dairy unit totalling around €1,600.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail has called for major changes to the Septic Tanks Bill, which is currently being debated by the Dail and Seanad.

Fianna Fail's agriculture spokesperson in the Seanad, Brian Ó Domhnaill, said Cavan should be exempted from the bill because the county was the only one in Ireland complying with the European directive.

Senator Ó Domhnaill said Cavan had in place a system with no registration fee and only selective inspections without the criminal charges being proposed by the Government. He said such a system should be introduced nationally.

Among the Fianna Fail amendments to the bill are:

•One free desludging of septic tanks each year;

•No registration fees;

•No appeal fees;

•Grants of at least 85pc to meet any upgrade costs;

•Not having criminal action placed against septic tank owners.

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