Irish Water to spend €1.3bn pumping water from Shannon to ease shortages in Dublin and Midlands
Irish Water has ruled out using sea water as a new drinking supply for Dublin and the midlands, saying it would require six times as much energy to make the water drinkable and produce millions of litres of 'salty' brine which would have to be disposed.
Severe water shortages are forecast from 2025 due to rising demand and the utility says the best solution is extracting 330 million litres of water a day from the River Shannon.
The utility intends seeking planning permission next year for the €1.3bn water supply project, which will involve water being extracted at the Parteen basin in Tipperary, before being pumped to Peamount in south Dublin and distributed across the capital.
Water will also be drawn from the 170km pipeline to meet demand from homes and businesses in Tipperary, Offaly, Laois, Westmeath, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow.
The company says unless the project goes ahead, the shortages that arose during Storm Emma and the Web Summit a number of years ago will become more commonplace.
"If we continue to operate without the required headroom, we can expect more frequent water outages in the coming years as demand increases," a consultation report on the project, published today, says.
The reason is because some 1.67 billion litres of water is generated every day, but 658 million is lost through leaking pipes. In Dublin, there is demand for 580 million litres but just 600 million is available.
In the event of drought, a pollution incident, severe weather, extra demand or a problem with a plant, shortages can occur.
Mullingar in Westmeath is also on a knife edge, as are Ashbourne and Ratoath in Meath and other midland towns.
Tackling leakage through pipe replacement will bolster the system, but the utility also says a new source is also needed.
Around 450 landowners, including farmers, could be affected but compensation will be paid for the use of lands and any business disruption which might arise.
Among the concerns include the impact on agricultural operations, including stud farms; on wildlife, protected areas and levels in the River Shannon.
Alternatives considered included utilising groundwater sources, and desalination, or treating sea water. This would result in significantly higher energy costs, would require salty water to be disposed of offshore, and minerals would be lost in the treatment process, which would have to be replaced.
"You have to find a balance looking 30 or 40 years ahead," Irish Water managing director Jerry Grant said. "You could get small amounts from groundwater but it wouldn't remove the requirement (for a new supply).
"Desalination plants can be a nightmare to run, and it is a Dublin-centric solution because it wouldn't give a new supply to the midlands and the water would have a different taste.
"Some people consider taking it from the Shannon to be almost a madcap solution but it's the biggest river in the UK and Ireland by far, we already use it in Limerick, it's very resilient and it's a very conventional scheme. Until this scheme is built, we won't have the headroom."
New legislation is needed to allow Irish Water extract from the Shannon. When this is passed, the utility will seek planning permission, most likely next year. The project is due to be completed by 2025.