Irish Water comes under pressure to urgently invest in upgrades at Wexford treatment plants following a chaotic weekend which left some without running water.
OVER 40,000 people across Co Wexford remain under a boil water notice as Wexford County Council crews are working around the clock with Irish Water to try and rectify unprecedented water issues across the county.
Director of Services at Wexford County Council Eamonn Hore says that a boil water notice will remain in place on the Wexford town supply until next week at the earliest, while it’s hoped that the Enniscorthy notice will be lifted by Wednesday with Gorey following suit later in the week. In Wexford town, quite a number of houses and businesses were without water for long periods, some not seeing a trickle from the tap from Friday until Monday.
Speaking yesterday afternoon, a weary sounding Mr Hore stressed that Wexford County Council crews were doing everything they can to restore some kind of service to all homes in the county as soon as possible.
"All our people on the ground have been working every hour God sends trying to fix this,” he said. “We will get there. Over the weekend the all the water staff were working tirelessly on this issue to restore supplies. I wish to commend and thank all staff for their efforts over the past week.”
The problems which have resulted in the current fiasco in Wexford seem to be twofold – unprecedented heavy rainfall and a lack of proper investment from Irish Water in the county’s main water treatment plants.
"Absolutely it was the weather,” Mr Hore said. “It’s the heaviest rainfall we’ve ever seen at our weather station in Mayglass. We saw over 60mm of water in one day. The four main towns are served by river supplies. They are very vulnerable to weather events, particularly extreme weather events, and heavy rain like that washes everything from the land into the river. Basically, it clogged up the treatment systems.
"Every effort was made to protect supplies and treat the water, however the very poor river waters overwhelmed the filters and treatment processes and Boil Water Notices had to be issued to restore and maintain supply and to protect the people of the three towns affected.”
Mr Hore noted that there are now three live red Drinking Water Incident Response Teams in place, which he says is comparable to recovery situations following Red Weatehr incidents in recent years in terms of resourcing and activity.
“We will manage these incidents to get them resolved as soon as possible, this is already under way. Wexford County Council staff have been and will be working through the weekend to get these notices lifted as quickly as we can. We have phoned schools and creches on the Wexford and Enniscorthy supplies and Gorey schools and creches had already been contacted.”
It was notable that New Ross, the only of the main towns not currently under a boil water notice, is the only one with a UV water treatment system in place – one which was installed by Wexford County Council before water services were handed to Irish Water. It’s been suggested by many observers that had the same treatment systems been in place in Wexford, Enniscorthy and Gorey, the county wouldn’t have found itself in the mess that arrived with the heavy weather over the weekend.
"We don’t hold the purse strings unfortunately,” Mr Hore said. “We do need investment immediately in UV treatment plants. Irish Water has scheduled an upgrade at the Wexford plant for 2023, but that’s just not sustainable. We can’t guarantee that this won’t happen again. I think we need all of our elected representatives pushing for this in the near future and not waiting until 2023. There was physically nothing we could do with the plants that are there to avoid this situation.
“We are doing all we can to resolve these issues and liaising with Irish Water and the HSE. All of these plants require investment by Irish Water, which is planned but needs to progress at increased pace. Gorey works are progressing but Wexford and Enniscorthy are not scheduled for upgrades until 2023. This timescale is not now sustainable. We will be pressing Irish Water for faster resolution of upgrades and also that UV treatment be installed on the supplies as priority to provide security and resilience to the water supplies in Wexford.”
Speaking on South East Radio yesterday morning, Jim Fitzgerald of Irish Water stressed that it was more the heavy rainfall that was to blame than a lack of investment from the utilities company. He said that investment of some €2 million was planned for Wexford with €8 million for Vinegar Hill in Enniscorthy, while work is ongoing at Creagh in Gorey.
"There will be investment in these areas,” he said. “Obviously, we have to prioritise areas for work, but these issues with very heavy rain will surely drive investment in this direction.”