Now it's a drought as we run out of water
More councils to cut supplies, impose hose bans after 16 days without rain
MAJOR water shortages are affecting a third of the country as a drought takes hold.
At least 10 local authorities have been forced to cut off or restrict supplies of drinking water at night as supplies dwindle.
And many more are warning that restrictions are likely to be imposed as temperatures rise to 30C or beyond this weekend.
But the Government is unable to say how much water is stored in reservoirs and how much capacity remains in the system.
The Department of the Environment said it was in contact with the Local Government Management Agency on the matter as soaring temperatures played havoc with water supplies.
The agency had, in turn, been in contact with a number of local authorities which had indicated that supplies were under "increasing demand".
However, it could not provide a detailed breakdown on a county-by-county basis, despite a survey by this newspaper showing that restrictions and hosepipe bans are widespread.
Demand for water is up by a third in some areas as people turn hosepipes on their gardens, take prolonged showers or fill paddling pools.
Meteorologists have confirmed that the country is now suffering a drought as it is 16 days since rain has fallen in almost every part of Ireland.
Not since 1995 has the country had such a prolonged spell of dry weather, and last night Met Eireann said there was no end in sight.
Pressure on supplies has become so acute that six local authorities – Galway, Laois, Offaly, South Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford – have been forced to introduce hosepipe bans or will do so in the coming days.
The country's biggest local authority, Dublin City, which supplies four council areas in the capital as well as parts of Wicklow and Kildare, warned that demand had increased by 30 million litres a day.
The council, which produces more than 500 million litres of drinking water a day, was monitoring supplies closely.
There were no immediate concerns about supplies of raw, or untreated, water.
Temperatures will fall by a few degrees this weekend, with a "slight" risk of showers in isolated areas.
However, it will not mean significant rainfall, and the fine weather should remain until late next week, Met Eireann forecaster Joanna Donnelly said.
"Over the weekend will be dry, warm and sunny with a very slight risk of the odd shower, most probably inland," she said. There's an increased risk of showers on Sunday, but few people will be affected.
"It's probably going to get to 28C or 29C over the weekend in some places.
"It's 1995 since there was such an extraordinary period of fabulous weather. There have been good spells, particularly in 2006, and it's 16 days since we had rain, meaning we're in a drought."
Met Eireann issued a Yellow Alert yesterday as temperatures continued to hover into the high 20s.
But today there is a possibility that the mercury could rise beyond 30C, which would prompt the first ever Orange Alert. This is most likely to happen in the Midlands, away from cooling sea breezes.
With no end to the heatwave in sight, councils warned yesterday that they were struggling to conserve treated water supplies, particularly as many people insisted on filling paddling pools.
"The peak time of usage is between 8pm and 9pm, not your normal peak times, and we suspect this is because people are washing their cars and watering their gardens then," said a spokesman for Carlow County Council.
He added that water levels in the Slaney and Burren rivers had dropped by one metre, and the council was in "very serious bother".
Galway County Council said demand had risen by 33pc.
"We have a hosepipe ban already in place," a spokesman said.
"Demand for water is up by a third in rural areas and this has seriously affected one area, Glenamaddy. It's very tight there.
"Water restrictions are in place throughout the county from 10pm to 7am, and this may be extended if the hot weather continues."
In Laois, where a hosepipe ban is in place, a county council spokesman said it had lost 66pc of stored water in one area.
Six areas in Cork are experiencing varying degrees of difficulties.
South Tipperary County Council warned that it was forced to cut supplies to Cahir this week to allow reservoirs to refill, and warned that the situation was on a knife-edge.
"We're surviving but things are critical," a spokesman said. "We've developed a number of boreholes to augment our existing supplies, but the water tables are so low now that the levels are dropping.
"We brought a hosepipe ban in on Wednesday. It will be over the next two days that we'll start to see if we are getting a reaction.
"If we get the desired response from the public, we won't be coming down heavy. We're hoping that common sense will prevail and that people realise water levels are down and how essential it is that we have water for households and businesses."
Hosepipe bans are being introduced only as a last resort. Anyone breaking the ban is subject to an on-the-spot fine of €125, which can rise to €5,000 on conviction in court.
While local authorities are reluctant to use these powers, sources said they could be forced to get tough if users failed to comply.
Both the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) and Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) have warned that the lack of rainfall and resultant stalled grass growth were becoming a matter of increasing concern.
Livestock farmers are also battling to cope with the pressure of additional watering requirements for overheated cattle, sheep and horses.
In contrast, cereal farmers are looking forward to one of the best harvests in living memory.
Met Eireann said yesterday that sea temperatures had rocketed, which was a "very unusual" occurrence.
Surface temperatures had risen to 20C, 5C higher than usual for July