IRELAND's leaking water mains are to be upgraded and replaced at a cost of €300m -- but the money will be taken from existing budgets.
The Government will announce today that leaks across the entire network will be monitored, with defective pipes replaced or repaired in an effort to reduce waste in the system.
But there is no extra cash for the work, and necessary funds will have to be taken from budgets for existing water services.
Meanwhile, residents in Dublin and Clare are still coping with reduced supplies after pipes froze and burst during weeks of sub-zero temperatures.
Thousands of homeowners will also have to pay to replace service pipes into their properties, which ruptured because developers flouted guidelines requiring them to bury pipes two-feet underground to avoid freezing.
This morning's announcement is designed to tackle high-leakage rates across the network, which can result in 16.8pc to 58.6pc of all water treated by local authorities being "lost" because of leaking pipes, illegal connections and metering errors.
"We are playing a huge game of catch-up with our water infrastructure following decades of under-investment," Environment Minister John Gormley said yesterday.
"Exchequer investment in water infrastructure has increased to an average of €500m per annum since 2007, and the €4.6bn the State has spent in the last decade is paying dividends. However, the difficulties experienced by thousands of householders across the country show there are still issues with our water infrastructure and consumption of water that need to be addressed."
Some 1,600 million litres of water are treated daily by local authorities; 540--550 million litres for the wider Dublin area.
A key factor influencing water loss is the age of the infrastructure and quality of pipes. Leakage can result from lack of maintenance or failure to upgrade systems, which has happened here after decades of little or no investment.
Labour's environment spokeswoman Joanna Tuffy said a lot of investment in recent years was based on meeting new demand and not upgrading existing infrastructure.
An audit of the entire network should be completed before money was spent.
"A review in 2005 for the National Development Plan found there is not enough knowledge as to the existing infrastructure," she said.
"They need to build new projects and repair the existing infrastructure. They need to audit the system, look at a national water office and announce more money."
Mr Gormley also confirmed he would bring proposals to Government in the coming weeks on introducing water metering to 1.1 million households across the State.
Charging will be introduced on a phased basis as local authorities install the meters. Roll-out of the meters is expected to begin next year.