MAJOR barriers to providing safe drinking water are revealed today as the country prepares to begin paying charges for the first time.
More than 320,000 people will draw their water from risky supplies even after charges are introduced in January 2015, an Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Drinking Water Report shows.
Thirty-seven plants will not have upgrades in place by the time charges are introduced, with some not expected to be completed until December 2022.
The environmental watchdog said that while the quality of water from public supplies had improved, Irish Water faced major challenges to ensure water was safe to drink.
“The report shows that improved monitoring, management, processes and disinfection practices by local authorities have reduced the number of e coli occurrences in public supplies by 92pc since 2005,” EPA spokesman Gerard O’Leary said.
“The results show progress, but the results also show that Irish Water has a lot of work to do to provide safe and secure drinking water to the public.”
Some 15,433 people in Roscommon are currently on boil water notices, he added, and 30 supplies across the country had similar restrictions in place. “These figures are unacceptable,” he added.
Irish Water will take control of the water network from January, but local authorities will operate plants on its behalf for up to 12 years.
However, the semi-state company will be responsible for ensuring that water is safe to drink and will also be tasked with upgrading the network including renovating existing plants and installing new pipes, including replacing 5km of lead piping in Clare, Cork and Kerry.
Annual investment of up to €600m is needed over the coming years to bring our supplies up to international standards and to ensure we meet EU directives on water quality.
The Drinking Water Report collates 250,000 monitoring tests carried out on public and private supplies.
It says that while there has been an overall improvement in quality from public supplies – just seven of the 928 major supplies reported not meeting standards last year – there are major concerns about water from group |water schemes and private supplies in particular.
Some 11.3pc of private wells were not meeting the standards, and the EPA warned homeowners that they could be putting their families' health at risk if they decided to dig a well to avoid charges.
Four legally binding directions were issued to two local authorities, Wexford and Laois, which obliged them to take specific actions to improve supplies.
In addition, Mayo County Council was successfully prosecuted for failing to comply with an agreed programme to provide safe drinking water.
Among the main concerns held by the EPA include the number of cases of e coli and VTEC, a strain of the bug, which can result in symptoms ranging from stomach upsets to, in severe cases, kidney failure.
The presence of e coli in water suggests it has been contaminated with faeces, and the report also says that some sources of drinking water are not being safeguarded.
It shows that heavy rainfall during 2012 resulted in more contamination to supplies, with some plants struggling to safeguard against unsafe water entering the public supply.
It also shows that restrictions were in place across 74 supplies at some point last year, affecting 67 supplies and 50,000 people. Seven were in Roscommon and 14 in Kerry. There was also an increase in the number of reported cases of cryptosporidium, which rose to 556 from 428 the previous year.
The EPA criticised “significant delays” by some local authorities to provide information on whether works to improve supplies had been successful.
In all, 147 plants will be improved, of which 110 will be completed by January 2015. A total of 17 will be replaced, 122 upgraded and operations will be improved in eight.
|Louth Talt supply, Sligo||9250||Jan-15|
|North East Regional Supply, Roscommon||4800||Jun-15|
|Lough Gill, Sligo||3700||Aug-15|
|Roundwood, DL Rathdown||49000||Dec-15|
|Burncoat, North Tipperary||2038||Dec-15|
|Cloran, South Tipperary||2500||Dec-15|
|Gortnapisha, South Tipperary||2500||Dec-15|
|Mullenbawn, South Tipperary||2500||Dec-15|
|Croan Upper, Waterford||14||Dec-15|
|Lisloose reservoir, Kerry||3923||Dec-16|
|Lough Guitane, Kerry||55848||Dec-16|
|Navan and Mid-Meath||28000||Dec-16|
|Castlerea urban, Roscommon||1800||Dec-16|
|Castlerea Regional, Roscommon||2600||Dec-16|
|North Roscommon Regional supply||5750||Dec-16|
|South Sligo Regional supply||592||Dec-16|
|Bray Reservoir, Wicklow||20000||Dec-22|
|Newtown Newcastle, Wicklow||3500||Dec-22|