'We are in a crisis situation' - Irish Water chief warns people to adhere to hosepipe ban
- Irish Water says situation now critical
- Could take weeks or months to restore water levels
- Minister tells people tempted to breach order 'don't be stupid'
PEOPLE who waste water during the hosepipe ban face the threat of being brought to court - as the head of Irish Water warns that the country is now in a crisis situation.
As Irish Water warned the current ban would be extended "across the country" in the coming days, it signalled those who persistently waste water would not go unpunished.
Persistent breaches of the hosepipe ban and a refusal to pay the €125 fine will land homeowners before a judge.
The utility said that while it did not want to take people to court, it would "review its options in the case of a persistent breach of the order combined with a refusal to pay the on-the-spot fine".
The ban is in place in the Greater Dublin Area from today and runs until the end of the month.
However, Irish Water chief Jerry Grant says he expects further hosepipe bans to be introduced, with sweltering conditions expected to continue during the week.
Restrictions are being imposed on water supplies in various communities nationwide and it is these areas that are now most at risk of an extension of the hosepipe ban.
Speaking on today's Morning Ireland programme on RTE Radio Mr Grant said: "It's necessary because we are in a crisis situation now similar to the drought of 1976 and the implications are being felt right across the country.
"We are working really at the edge of what we can to keep supplies going. Not too many people have been cut off yet but that is coming unless we get the demand back down to levels that are sustainable from the sources that we have."
Extra staff are being drafted in to man the utility's helpline, where members of the public can report people breaching the unprecedented order not to water gardens or wash cars with hoses.
Irish Water asked people to report leaks as the crisis escalates and warned that demand for water "remains too high".
A spokesperson said they expected the vast majority of the public would be "law-abiding" and adhere to the ban.
But Irish Water warned it would act in cases where there is "excessive and continuous usage".
"If people want to report excessive usage, they can call 1850 278 278 in the first instance and Irish Water will follow-up from there," it said in a statement.
The company did not give further detail on plans to enforce the ban. It has an option to appoint `authorised officers' to investigate complaints and it can use water meters that have already been installed at homes to measure usage in the case of a prolonged ban.
"We rely on community and peer pressure to make this work because we can't enforce our way to proper water management, it's not possible for us to conserve water through enforcement," Mr Grant said.
"At the end of the day enforcement procedures are there and we have the power to take action when there's flagrant abuse but that's all we can do.
"Ultimately this is about drawing people's attention to the fact that this is now very critical and it's going to go on for weeks and months because the reality is water depletion in our rivers and lakes is going to take weeks and maybe months to recover," he added.
Last night, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy's message to anyone tempted to breach the order was: "Don't be stupid, don't be selfish."
He thanked families and businesses who had been making conservation efforts, but warned that the hot and dry weather could be prolonged.
"We have to be mindful of how we are using water and mindful of others," he said.
Irish Water said conserving water now would safeguard supplies in the autumn. It pointed to data from Met Éireann showing the level of rainfall since February is on a par with the major drought of 1976.
Mr Grant told RTÉ that the hosepipe ban is a signal of "just how critical the situation is".
"During the week ahead, I expect we will have quite a number of hosepipe bans extended to schemes that are in trouble," he added.
The use of hoses is banned for watering gardens, washing cars and filling swimming and paddling pools. The use of garden sprinklers is also banned.
Irish Water said 39 water supplies around the country were subject to night-time water restrictions and more than 100 more were at risk due to high consumption.
Water usage in the Greater Dublin Area dropped marginally ahead of the ban. This was put down to people being away for the weekend and businesses being closed. However, the demand of 582 million litres a day is well above the 565 million a day for the same period last year.
Elsewhere, 27 water schemes in the southern region have been affected by drought with parts of Kilkenny, Carlow and Waterford hardest hit.