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Funds to upgrade creaking system not free-flowing

RAISING money to fix water treatment plants is just another elephant in the room for the cash-strapped State.

Although Environment Minister John Gormley actually got an increase in his budget for upgrading works this year, billions of euro more is needed to make our water safe.

Investment in drinking water quality is not a vote-getter as taxpayers expect to be able to drink from the tap. And it's important to note that most supplies across the country are up to standard.

Rarely do we hear of people being hospitalised after drinking dodgy water. But people do get sick. It might pass in a day or two, but it happens all the same.

Public confidence in the system was badly shaken in 2007 when Galway city was without water for five months.

But thousands of families are forced to rely on alternative sources today, as boil water notices are in place across the State.

There's also a lack of information about the quality of treatment plants.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is auditing the country's 952 public facilities, but that's not going to happen overnight.

That information is vital to ensure that money is spent in the right places, and that riskier plants are identified and upgraded or replaced as a priority.

The EU also has a role in this. It imposes strict standards on drinking water quality, and member states must ensure their supplies are safe or risk being fined.

Earlier this year, it closed a case against Ireland after finding in November 2002 there were chronic contamination problems in hundreds of public supplies.

New legislation was introduced, increased enforcement powers were given to the EPA and hundreds of millions of euro was invested in new and upgraded plants which prompted Brussels to drop its case. But more work is needed.

Last April, the minister published the Water Services Investment Programme for 2010-2012. It says €1.8bn needs to be spent.

That's a lot of money to find in December's Budget.

Irish Independent