AS many as 350 construction companies are in line to win lucrative contracts to install water meters.
Small and medium-sized contractors have been asked to submit applications to be added to a list of firms available to carry out the works.
As many as 2,000 jobs will be created over the next three years as a million meters are fitted in homes nationwide.
Households are expected to begin paying for water from 2014, with average annual bills likely to be around €300.
But the Government wants smaller companies, many badly hit by the downturn and collapse of the construction industry, to get the contracts and help create local jobs.
Tender documents published last night show up to 350 crews will be needed. They will be supervised by main contractors, who have yet to be appointed.
"The Department of the Environment would like to see the greatest possible participation of small and medium enterprises in this important project," the tender said.
"To facilitate this objective, the department has decided to establish a panel of sub-contractors. The panel will be made available to the main contractor when the regional contracts are being tendered."
Contractors working for a division of the semi-state Bord Gais, to be called Irish Water, will begin installing equipment needed to fit the meters.
The work will include digging up roads and footpaths, working with householders to identify water mains pipes, installing boundary boxes which hold the meters and reinstating the road surface.
The competition is open to smaller firms which can prove they have carried out works worth €400,000 over the course of at least one year.
Companies must also have at least four staff – or have four sub-contracted workers – available. However, being included on the panel does not guarantee work. The final decision will be made by the contractors.
Last week Bord Gais sought companies to supply boundary boxes, which will be fitted outside 1.05 million houses. Apartments will not be metered, and residents will pay an "assessed", or average, charge.
The metering programme, which will start next July, is not expected to be completed before December 2016, meaning that some houses will pay an assessed charge until their meter is installed.
The total cost of installing the meters will be around €500m.