Ireland's heatwave: Supplies of water could be restricted 'in weeks'
WIDESPREAD water restrictions could be imposed across the country from late summer and into September if the dry spell continues and consumption remains high.
Levels of 'raw' water have plummeted in lakes, rivers and aquifers and will continue to fall if the heatwave takes hold, but restrictions could be imposed in some areas within weeks, Irish Water said.
Those restrictions could persist for as long as three months, into early autumn.
In the shorter term, those most likely to be affected are communities which draw water from depleted sources.
This is affecting people living in Athlone, Mullingar, parts of Donegal, Kilkenny and Offaly.
While there are no immediate supply issues in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), this could change over the coming months, the utility warned.
Irish Water can produce a maximum of 610 million litres of drinking water a day to serve the capital and surrounding counties, but demand has shot up over recent weeks as the fine weather took hold.
Last summer, an average of 565 million litres was consumed every day. This summer, it has risen to 585 million. Last Friday, consumption rose to 620 million, and some 597 million litres was used in the 24 hours up to 2pm yesterday.
"There has been a prolonged dry spell, we're seeing this increase in demand but levels in rivers and lakes across the country are dropping, which means there's less water for us to treat and supply," Irish Water Corporate Affairs Manager Kate Gannon said.
"Every year we have an amount of raw water which builds up and that sees us through the summer. We're using that up much more quickly. We're almost using up July, August and September water now, so we might see an issue in a number of months. We're eating into the water we use for the summer and autumn period…we may have pressures later in the year."
There are no "immediate shortages" as the main reservoirs serving the capital have ample supply, but with levels in aquifers, rivers and lakes falling, some areas are at risk.
Restrictions are already in place on the Aran Islands, in Leitir More in Galway, and in parts of Kilkenny and Donegal. These areas are generally served by small supplies, and other areas are vulnerable.
"With some of the water supplies across the country already at risk, if it (dry weather) does continue we may have to introduce restrictions," Ms Gannon added. "Even if we had a few days of rain, with soil moisture content low…it will take a good deal of rain to bring our sources up."
Irish Water has ruled out introducing night-time restrictions, saying they were difficult to impose without some customers being affected. The utility is urging customers to reduce consumption, by avoiding power-washing driveways, taking baths or using the hose to water gardens.
"As soon as we start introducing restrictions or pressure reductions, people on the edge of the network or on higher ground are impacted," Ms Gannon said. "We're very conscious of that, so our first port of call is to remind people and raise awareness of the water they're using. We appreciate the weather is sunny, but if you conserve water you're helping your community and your neighbours."
A drought management team is actively monitoring reservoir levels across the country, and assessing the amount of raw water available for production.
Construction of two large trunk mains, expected to be completed in 2021, will help increase daily output for the GDA to some 650 million litres a day, and provide the capability to 'push' water around the network.
However, economic growth coupled with increased demand from business and the residential sector means a new supply is needed, Irish Water added.