Wednesday 20 November 2019

New water crisis may hit many towns

Old pipes lead to fears of repeat outages nationwide

Estelle Gorman, manager of the Relish Cafe in the South Gate Shopping Centre in Drogheda. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Estelle Gorman, manager of the Relish Cafe in the South Gate Shopping Centre in Drogheda. Photo: Colin O’Riordan

Ryan Nugent, Elaine Keogh and Alan O'Keeffe

Towns across the country are at risk from water outages as billions of euro are needed to fix old piping systems, Irish Water has warned.

The stark assessment came as parts of Co Louth and Co Meath endured another day without water as supplies are not expected to be fixed until Thursday evening.

Around 50,000 homes and businesses have been left without water since the water main in Staleen, Co Meath, burst.

The potential for further incidents countrywide is understood to be a major worry for the water utility.

A spokesperson for Irish Water said the same issues could "absolutely" happen elsewhere due to the creaking water infrastructure.

Managing director of Irish Water Jerry Grant said the utility has still to replace 1,000km of old pipe over the next five years.

Bernie Lynch’s bucket is filled in Ballsgrove, Drogheda. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Bernie Lynch’s bucket is filled in Ballsgrove, Drogheda. Photo: Fergal Phillips

These are mainly made up of asbestos cement - similar to the burst main that has caused chaos in the north-east.

When asked about potentially similar occurrences nationwide, Mr Grant told RTÉ News: "Unfortunately, I think the answer has to be yes."

Supply

He also warned that while some level of water supply will return on Thursday, it will be a number of days before the supply fully returns.

This is just the latest water issue to hit the country - just last month some 30,000 people in Cork city were without water overnight as repairs were completed on a ruptured main.

Yesterday, repairs were scheduled or under way for burst pipes at Ballymun in Dublin, in Tipperary town, at Kilkishen and Alva in Co Clare, at Brittas in Co Limerick, Luggacurren in Co Laois, Ballytivnan in Co Sligo, and Vicarstown and Cobh in Co Cork.

During the outage, Irish Water is supplying water to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, as a priority.

A water rationing plan is in place across the north-east area, with a rolling schedule supplying water to different areas yesterday.

Meanwhile, a HSE specialist has warned food businesses in the north-east that they may need to "reduce or cease trading" if they cannot guarantee the safety of their food because of the water outage.

Dr Peter Finnegan, who is based in the Department of Public Health in Navan, said food operators need to assess the risk posed for the duration of the outage.

"It is the responsibility of the food businesses and childcare operators to ensure that food prepared and/or served in their premises does not put the health of the public at risk," Dr Finnegan said.

"Food business operators need to assess the risk in their own food premises and in so doing may need to decide to reduce or cease trading for the duration of the disruption to the water supply."

Irish Water has been criticised for its response to the water crisis in the north-east.

Labour Senator Ged Nash said it was a "cack-handed" response while Meath Councillor Paddy Meade (FG) described it as "shambolic".

"This is not just a local emergency, this is a regional emergency," said Paddy Callaghan, president of Drogheda Chamber of Commerce and chairman of local business Nature's Best.

"At this stage, the outage probably affects more than 100,000 people and hundreds of businesses in parts of Louth and Meath, including the hospitality sector at a key time of year.

"After the supply has been restored, Drogheda and District Chamber of Commerce will be seeking a meeting with Irish Water management to discuss their day-to-day management of the outage."

Meanwhile, local man Martin Churchill (52), who was operating a water hydrant at Ballsgrove, said "hundreds of people came to the hydrant".

Irish Independent

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