Tuesday 18 September 2018

Hosepipe ban on the cards as households face fines for wasting water amid drought fears

Sisters Savannah (6 1/2) and Maddison Bradley (5) from Bunclody enjoy the fine summer weather on the beach in Courtown Co. Wexford. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Sisters Savannah (6 1/2) and Maddison Bradley (5) from Bunclody enjoy the fine summer weather on the beach in Courtown Co. Wexford. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

HOUSEHOLDERS face being banned from using hosepipes to water their gardens or wash their cars under draconian tough measures being considered to avoid a national water shortage.

Irish Water is looking at  using emergency powers to ban hosepipes as 100 supplies across the country serving more than 902,000 people struggle to keep up with demand.

The utility said it was closely monitoring supplies across 17 counties, with Dublin and Galway cities now at risk of having restrictions imposed, along with large towns including Westport in Mayo, Midleton in Cork and Ballinasloe in Galway.

Water pressure has been reduced to the lowest level possible in the Greater Dublin Area in an effort to replenish reservoirs as the lack of rain has an impact across the system.

Restrictions already in place in parts of Kilkenny, Longford, Athlone, north Galway, Louth and Kerry could be extended unless demand falls, it warned.

The situation is most acute in the Dublin area, where some 610 million litres of water a day are produced. But the latest figures show that 615 million litres was consumed over the previous 24 hours, forcing the company to use back-up

supplies of treated water to meet demand.

It warned it could not do this indefinitely, and confirmed it was actively considering the introduction of a national hosepipe ban to protect supplies.

The move would ban use of a hosepipe to wash the car, water the garden or fill a paddling pool. It could also potentially have an impact on those watering parks or sports pitches, irrigating crops, or operating a car washing service.

Fines of €125 can be imposed, which would be levied by gardaí or an ‘authorised officer’ operating on behalf of the utility, which could be an Irish Water staff member or local authority official. It might also establish a dedicated phone number where breaches could be reported.

Powers

The company said the move was being “actively considered”, and a final decision would be made in the coming days.

“We are assessing all legal options available to us,” director of corporate affairs Kate Gannon said. “We want to work with customers, but we may need to use these powers if we have to.”

The utility is also looking at  contacting customers recorded as using excessive amounts of water under the metering programme, but who refused to engage with the utility.

It believes that fixing leaks on these properties could save substantial amounts of water.

Ms Gannon urged customers to reduce consumption where possible by not using hoses, avoiding washing their cars and taking short showers instead of baths to avoid the imposition of restrictions or hosepipe bans.

Crews were on the ground looking at how to boost output from at-risk supplies, and large water users had been asked to reduce consumption.

“They’re looking at pumping regimes, the depth of the well in the boreholes, operational changes to the network and optimising pressure management,” she said.

“Any options we have to avoid outages is what we’re doing now to keep water going to businesses and homes. Right now, the pressures are as low as they can be (in Dublin) without impacting supply.

“We are going to see how the system performs over the next 24 and 48 hours. We don’t want to impact on customers, especially as it’s the height of the tourism season and children are off school.”

Dublin Bus and Irish Rail have committed to washing their fleets less regularly, while the Department of Education has been asked to contact schools asking them to cut off water once they close for the summer. The reduced pressure is not expected to affect households or businesses, but further measures may be required as the dry spell continues.

Data from Irish Water shows that of the 900 supplies across the country, 100 supplies are at risk, serving almost 903,000 people – some 620,000 in the Greater Dublin Area.

There are 21 supplies serving 40,000 customers in Cork on the watchlist; 10 across Galway city and county serving almost 95,000, 12 in Limerick serving 16,000 and seven in Wicklow serving almost 5,000.

Levels of raw, untreated water in rivers, lakes, aquifers and other sources have fallen following four months of

below-average rainfall.

Soil moisture levels are also low, meaning that even when rain falls, it might not be sufficient to begin recharging these raw water sources.

Irish Water said that it remained “very concerned” about the possibility of having to impose restrictions in the long term.

“This will become unavoidable if the dry conditions persist into the autumn with lower than normal rainfalls,” it added.

“Demand for water is increasing while levels in rivers and lakes are dropping significantly which means there is less water available to supply.”

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