Water meters will be used to track hosepipe cheats
Government wants Irish Water to monitor wasteful use
Irish Water will monitor water meters to enforce tomorrow's first-in-a-generation hosepipe ban if the heatwave continues to put reservoir supplies at risk, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
It can also be revealed that Leo Varadkar sought advice on responding to drought and fires from the prime ministers of Spain and Portugal at last week's EU Summit in Brussels.
The Taoiseach also struck a deal with Spain's Pedro Sanchez and Portugal's Antonio Costa which will see ministers in all three countries "open lines of communications" on reacting to extreme weather conditions.
The National Emergency Coordination Group was on standby last night, but the Government does not believe it needs to be called into action just yet.
However, the head of the group, Sean Hogan, and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy are in constant contact with each other and front-line agencies responding to the heatwave.
Yesterday, Met Eireann warned that drought-like conditions will continue until at least Friday despite temperatures dropping in coming days.
Tomorrow sees the introduction of a hosepipe ban in the Greater Dublin Area, with households set to be hit with €125 fines for excessive water usage during the drought.
The Sunday Independent has learned that Irish Water will use meters to monitor usage if the ban is implemented for a "prolonged period".
The meters can be used to verify how much water a household is using if it is suspected of breaching the ban.
Irish Water will also use the full extent of its legislative powers under the Water Services Act to crack down on persistent offenders.
The legislation permits the State utility company to specifically monitor households or businesses which it believes to be using excessive water.
Irish Water can use "all such powers of examination, investigation and survey as may be necessary" to enforce the hosepipe ban. It can also seek a court order to "enter and inspect any premises".
"We expect people to be law-abiding. Irish Water will follow up persistent and excessive use, using their powers under the 2007 Act," a senior government source said.
"Meters will play a part if the order endures for a prolonged period and can also be used for special reads where we want to verify usage."
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the hosepipe ban showed the short-sightedness of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael's decision to abolish water charges. "I think a lot of people will be ruing the fact that we didn't treat the funding of our water supply and conservation of our water supply seriously," he said.
A spokeswoman for Irish Water told the Sunday Independent that current water usage "is way higher than we'd like".
"Usage is still too high. We're appealing to the community spirit of people to collectively respond to safeguard supplies," she said.
Checks on levels of water at reservoirs serving the Greater Dublin Area yesterday showed levels were "slightly down".
Usage levels last Friday were shown to be 6pc above normal. While weekend usage was down slightly, too much water was still being used. Nationally, among the 900 water systems that supply the country, supplies in 100 were "at risk", the Irish Water spokeswoman said.
Bans on using hoses to water gardens, wash cars, and clean windows may yet be extended nationwide as drought conditions persist.
There are restrictions on water supplies in parts of Cork, Kerry, Kilkenny, Waterford, Longford, Carlow, Galway and Laois.
The National Federation of Group Water Schemes said local systems were "under stress" and there was "a very real danger that the situation will deteriorate in coming days".
With water demand at "exceptionally high" levels, there are potential implications for human health. The increase of at least 50pc in water demand is putting pressure on treatment systems, the organisation warned.
The prices of vegetables may increase in the coming days as farmers warned that yields were down significantly and called for urgent meetings with supermarket chains.
Farmers are also under pressure to ensure that millions of farm animals nationwide have sufficient water.
The Environmental Protection Agency said the Air Quality Index for Health had been rated as 'Fair' and 'Poor' over the last few days owing to elevated ozone levels.
The HSE issued warnings to take extra care to avoid the sun, especially the elderly, the very young and people with chronic conditions.
Hospitals have recorded a surge in bone fractures as a result of a big increase in outdoor activity in recent days. There has also been anecdotal evidence of a rise in trip injuries among people not used to wearing flip-flops.
In one hospital, University Hospital Limerick (UHL), a significant increase in the numbers of emergency/trauma cases generally has been reported.
An increase in falls and accidents has caused some elective orthopaedic surgeries to be cancelled.
"This high volume which we are experiencing is uncharacteristic for time of year," a UHL spokesman said.
"UHL has put on additional surgical lists and surgeons have been redeployed to manage the additional trauma cases."