| 8.9°C Dublin

25 years for Irish Water just to fix leaking pipes

IT will take a quarter of a century for Irish Water to reduce leakage to “acceptable levels” and at least a decade to remove dangerous lead piping from the public mains.

And the company has admitted it will have to reduce investment in the network by €300m between now and the end of next year because the money isn’t available. Details of the enormous task facing the beleaguered utility are revealed in a 25-year investment plan to be published today.

It says Irish Water is still compiling a database of treatment plants at risk of failure; does not know the number of properties at risk of flooding from overloaded sewers; and outdated treatment plants are causing almost 150 pollution incidents every year.

And the utility lays the blame for the state of the network firmly at the door of successive governments, saying our biggest cities still rely on 19th century infrastructure and that capital funding “rarely met the levels required” over the last 30 years.

Crucially, it also says that budgets did not allow for ongoing maintenance works at almost 2,000 drinking and wastewater treatment plants and 85,000kms of pipeline, which has resulted in “excessive leakage” and plants not working as designed.

Head of Asset Management at Irish Water, Jerry Grant, told the Irish Independent last night that €600m a year was needed for the foreseeable future to bring the network up to standard.

Some €300m of the €1.8bn of funding proposed under a capital investment plan, published last year, to the end of 2016 would not be available, he added.

“We may still be able to get additional funding but to be honest, given the state of planning of projects it’s close to what we would have been able to spend,” he said.

“A huge amount of work is going on to get the projects in place. We’re looking to spend at least €5.5bn between now and


2021, which includes €1bn for two big Dublin projects - a new supply and wastewater scheme.

"I think €600m (a year) is a base figure as far as the eye can see. There's never really been an appropriate level of funding," Mr Grant said.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

The draft Water Services Strategic Plan sets out the company's priorities over the next 25 years and will be subject to two months of public consultation.

One of its major priority projects is the reducing of leakage rates, which currently stand at 49pc - meaning almost half of all water produced is lost.

The plan is to bring this down to 38pc by 2021 and to an "economic level" of around 20pc by 2040.

It also proposes prioritising works at treatment plants currently at risk of failure. Almost one-in-three households source their drinking water from these plants.

Pollution incidents from wastewater treatment plants will be reduced from 149 a year at present, to 75 by 2021 and 20 by 2040.

In addition, lead piping in the public mains will be replaced within a decade, but Mr Grant warned that customers would have to replace pipes in their own homes.

"The reality of lead is it's a problem bigger than Irish Water. The majority of problems are in people's houses.

"We are assessing risk and letting people know. We're looking at treatment options such as orthophosphate, which is used in the UK and Northern Ireland and which we believe will make quite a difference. It's added to water at a low dose, and provides a coating to lead and iron pipes," he said.

Opponents of water charges have repeatedly called for the metering programme to be suspended and the money instead invested in repairing leaks.

But Irish Water said this would take decades to resolve.


"Leakage is one of those things which is going to take us 20 or 25 years to get it as low as we can economically drive it. It's a problem of the asset base and countless number of small leaks, and preventing it from going back up," Mr Grant said.

Other measures proposed include reducing the number of drinking water treatment plants from 856 at present, to 780 by 2021.

Over time, this will reduce to around 300 bigger plants, which will provide water for large geographical areas and will reduce operating costs and result in higher standards.

In addition, homes at risk of flooding from overflowing sewers during periods of intense rainfall will be mapped. These properties are generally in cities with antiquated sewer systems.

Short-term priorities include addressing high-risk plants and removing boil water notices, upgrading wastewater treatment systems to meet standards and reducing excessive leakage.

The location of customer leaks and lead in homes will also be captured, along with the creation of a database listing all assets to better target investment.

Many of the problems can be traced to a lack of funding, the plan says.

"Local authorities were reliant on the Exchequer for the bulk of their capital and operational funding. Capital funding rarely met the levels required, especially over the last 30 years, when EU standards drove the need for massive investment … more seriously, operational budgets made only very limited provision for assets maintenance and even less for planned maintenance to preserve design capacity.

"The absence of an asset management approach meant that assets deteriorated over time and this is now reflected in the performance deficits, giving rise to compliance failures and excessive leakage in water and wastewater networks."

It added that leakage was twice UK levels and "several times" that found in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany.

Continued from page 1