Wednesday 24 April 2019

Blazing sunshine shines a light on Ireland's creaky infrastructure

Editorial Comment

Some years ago Irish comedian Dara O'Briain - during a routine about the heat in Australia - memorably told an audience that "the melting point of an Irishman is 25 degrees."

This week it turned out that the melting point for much of the country's infrastructure is somewhere around the 30 degree mark.

By last Thursday, just three days into the heatwave, Irish Water was already warning that water supplies around the country - and particularly in the major cities - were in danger of running dry if urgent action wasn't taken.

Bizarrely the water authority claimed that it might even be necessary to restrict water use until the autumn if the good weather continues.

We've been told that the good weather is likely to continue for some time - though it might not be quite as hot as last week - but even so, given what we all know about Ireland's climate, the notion that water restrictions would be needed for another two months seem utterly absurd.

There is no doubt that the heatwave has led to increased water usage but what it has really exposed is the dismal state of Ireland's water supply infrastructure.

Despite a massive investment programme - which has seen about €1.2 billion a year spent on improving the water network - the amount of water being lost from leaky pipes all over the country actually increased last year.

An Irish Water report showed that in the first six months of 2017 761 million litres of water a day was lost from leaking mains. The previous year 732 million litres a day were being lost.

This means that almost half of the water supply in the state is being lost through leaky pipes with more than half being lost in Kerry, Cork, Tipperary, Mayo and Roscommon.

While people wasting water in the heat is certainly a major issue - and the public most certainly should do their bit to conserve supplies - it seems odd that, as Ireland's water supplies run dry, hardly anyone has mentioned the impact of the leaks.

Of course it's not just the lack of water that is causing problems, the roads too are feeling the heat.

All over the country there are stories about tarmac melting in the heat causing cars to skid out of control on melted tarmac that's as dangerous, and as hard to see, as black ice.

It is telling that this appears to be happening on roads where cash strapped councils have been forced to carry out patch-work potholes repairs using relatively cheap tar and gravel mixtures.

This too is an example of how cutting corners eventually leads to problems.

In typical Irish weather the country's infrastructure can, just about cope. However, when the mercury rises too high - or drops to low - things, very rapidly start to fall apart.

Given how much the global climate is changing - and the extreme seasonal weather we are now experiencing more and more often - the Government might do well to bear that in mind when it comes to spending on the basic infrastructure we all rely on.

Enniscorthy Guardian