Water supply and sanitation in Ireland


Water supply and sanitation in Ireland

Water supply and sanitation services in Ireland, in contrast to most countries in the world, are provided free of charge to domestic users since 1997. Only non-domestic users are billed for these services. The bulk of the costs of service provision is met from tax revenues transferred by the national government to local authorities, which are in charge of service provision.

Water resources are abundant and 83% of drinking water comes from surface water. Despite this abundance, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government John Gormley warned in August 2008 that water shortages “will be a key issue that Ireland will have to grapple with in the future”. In the absence of domestic tariffs and meters, domestic water use is somewhat higher than in other European countries at 160 liter per capita per day.

The quality of water from the public mains is usually quite high. However, the poor microbiological quality of some rural private group water schemes is problematic, leading Ireland to be condemned by the European Court of Justice in 2002 for having failed to abide by EU drinking water guidelines. High levels of leakage and non-revenue water of 40-50% are also a concern. Concerning wastewater, important progress has been made and 82% of wastewater collected in sewers now receives at least secondary treatment.

Water resources and use

Ireland has relatively abundant water resources, of which only about 2% are abstracted for human use. The main water-using sector is industry (74%), followed by domestic use (16%) and agriculture (10%). [ [http://earthtrends.wri.org/text/water-resources/country-profile-89.html World Resources Institute:Water Resources and Freshwater Ecosystems COUNTRY PROFILE - Ireland] ] Nevertheless water shortages that are possibly related to Climate Change have left some larger urban areas – particularly Dublin – struggling to meet demand during prolonged dry spells. [ [http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0826/1219679951619.html Water charges not on agenda – Gormley, Irish Times, August 26, 2008] ] The greater Dublin area faces acute water shortages in 40 or 50 years, according to a series of new studies that show water levels in the River Liffey could be just half of what they are today. As the city's population grows close to 2 million there will be a demand for an extra 300m litres of water per day, compared to 500m litres per day today. [ [http://www.rte.ie/news/2007/0822/water.html RTE News:Study predicts Dublin water crisis] , Wednesday, 22 August 2007. According to Dr John Sweeney from the Irish Climate and Research Unit at NUI Maynooth.] A 2006 feasibility study for the Greater Dublin water supply urges the immediate development of a new water source, pointing out that it will be needed no later than 2015-2016 to avert water rationing and the curtailment of economic growth. It also argues there is no time to waste because it will take at least a decade to build this proposed new source. [ [http://www.epa.ie/downloads/pubs/other/ea/dublinwaterfeasibility/ EPA:Greater Dublin Water Supply - Major Source Development Feasibility Study] , 2006 ]

Also, regional variations in rainfall and population distribution give much less favourable conditions in the east of the country compared to other areas. [ [http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119989613/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0 Water Resources and Management in the Republic of Ireland] , L. M. McCUMISKEY, BE, MSc, FIEI, MICE*P. F. TONER, PhD, Director and Section Head, respectively, Environmental Research Unit, Dublin, Water and Environment Journal, Volume 6 Issue 1, Pages 89 - 100, Published Online 26 Jul 2007 ]

In Ireland, the majority of drinking water (83%) originates from surfacewater (i.e. rivers and lakes) with the remainder originating from groundwater (11%) andsprings (6%). [ [http://www.epa.ie/downloads/pubs/water/drinking/dw%20report%2020062.pdf Environmental Protection Agency The Provision and Quality ofDrinking Water in Ireland, A Report for the Years 2006-2007] , p. v ]

Daily domestic consumption of water by customer is approximately 160 litres in Ireland. This compares to 150 litres in the UK where 25% of water users are metered, and 126 litres in Germany and 116 litres in Denmark where all water users are metered.

Service quality

The quality of water from the public mains is usually quite high and up the EU drinking water standards. However, the poor microbiological quality of rural private group water schemes and groundwater continue to be challenges for authorities responsible for drinking water. [ [http://www.epa.ie/environment/water/ EPA: Irish waters must achieve good water status by 2015] ]

The quality of drinking water in Ireland was brought forcefully to the attention of the Irish public with the outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Galway during 2007, which caused illness in over 240 people, and led to the imposition of a boil water notice in Galway for a period of 5 months during the peak tourist season. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while "many have taken the quality of drinking water in Ireland for granted in the past, this can no longer be the case". [ [http://www.epa.ie/downloads/pubs/water/drinking/dw%20report%2020062.pdf Environmental Protection Agency The Provision and Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland, A Report for the Years 2006-2007] , p. 1]

On 14 November 2002, Ireland was condemned by the European Court of Justice over the microbiological contamination of hundreds of public and private water supplies. The EU's Drinking Water Directive requires an absence of e.coli in drinking water supplies in order to protect human health. [ http://friendsoftheirishenvironment.net/?do=eu&action=view&id=78 Friends of the Irish Environment ] In 2007 EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas gave the Irish government a final warning before a fine would be issued: "I am concerned that, more than four years after a court ruling, and despite substantial Government investments, a significant number of local authority and private water supplies still show a presence of e.coli." [ http://www.irishhealth.com/index.html?level=4&id=11196 Angela Long:Ireland rapped over water quality, March 22, 2007 ]

Wastewater treatment

The proportion of waste water subject to secondary treatment has increased significantly from 26% between 1998-1999 to 82% in the 2004-2005 period. This is due predominantly to the new waste water treatment plants at Ringsend (Dublin), Cork City, Limerick City, Galway City and Dundalk. The provision of secondary treatment with nutrient reduction continues to increase. According to a 2004 survey by the EPA, of the 478 agglomerations,

*11% received no treatment
*5% received preliminary treatment
*2% received primary treatment
*70% received secondary treatment
*12% received nutrient reduction in addition to secondary treatment [ [http://www.epa.ie/environment/water/urbanwaste/ EPA: Urban waste water treatment] ]

According to the EPA, compliance with discharge limits for large plants has improved and stood at 67% in 2004-2005. However, only 19% of very small treatment plants are complying with discharge limits. [ [http://www.epa.ie/whatwedo/enforce/pa/wwater/ EPA:Wastewater treatment] ]

Nearly 25% of the rural population is not connected to sewers. Future development of services will place more emphasis on sewerage facilities, as outlined in the national action programme on the environment. [ [http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119989613/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0 Water Resources and Management in the Republic of Ireland] , L. M. McCUMISKEY, BE, MSc, FIEI, MICE*P. F. TONER, PhD, Director and Section Head, respectively, Environmental Research Unit, Dublin, Water and Environment Journal, Volume 6 Issue 1, Pages 89 - 100, Published Online 26 Jul 2007 ]

Responsibility for water supply and sanitation

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is in charge of policies for the water and sanitation sector within the Executive. Drinking water quality regulation is a responsibility of the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and service provision is a local government responsibility with financial assistance from the central government.

Regulation

Drinking Water quality. Local authorities are responsible for testing the quality of the water, in conjunction with the Local Health Offfice (HSE). In addition, since the European Communities (Drinking Water) Regulations (No.2), 2007, came into force in March 2007, the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) became the supervisory authority over public water supplies. It assesses the results of drinking water quality monitoring, provides advice and assistance to the local authorities, and can prosecute local authorities in case of a quality deficiency in a public water supply system. [ [http://www.epa.ie/downloads/pubs/water/drinking/dw%20report%2020062.pdf Environmental Protection Agency The Provision and Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland, A Report for the Years 2006-2007] , p. v ]

Economic regulation. Unlike in the United Kingdom, there is no economic regulator for water supply and sanitation in Ireland.

Service provision

See also Local government in the Republic of Ireland, [http://www.enfo.ie/leaflets/bs22.htm Dublin's Water History]

Water services are the responsibility of local authorities, which receive a subsidy from central government. Local authorities consist of 5 City Councils and 75 town councils.

Dublin Region Every day 540 million litres of high quality drinking water is produced and supplied to over 1.4 million customers in the Dublin Region. This corresponds to a per capita water production of 386 liter per day before losses and including commercial uses. The Dublin City Council's Water Services Division is responsible for supplying 70% of this water and the balance is being provided by Fingal County Council. Water is collected from the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains for treatment at the City Council's three water treatment plants at Ballymore Eustace, Roundwood and Ballyboden and at the Fingal County Council plant at Leixlip. It is then distributed to customers in Dublin City and in the South Dublin, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, Kildare and Wicklow County Council areas through a network of service reservoirs and 7,000 km of pipes of which 2,700 km are the responsibility of Dublin City Council.

Group water schemes. Group water schemes are found in rural areas, which are outside the scope of the urban public mains system administered by the local authority. There are 6,000 or so group water services schemes, of which 1,500 or so larger schemes serve more than 50 persons each, providing water for 145,000 households or less than 10% of the country’s population. [ [http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/D/0589/D.0589.200410050024.html Debate on the Proposed Water Services Bill of 2003] , Dáil Éireann - Volume 589 - 05 October, 2004 ] Group schemes can be private or public, depending on whether their water is supplied from the public mains (public group water scheme) or a private source (private group water scheme). All group schemes are fitted with a water meter so the local authority can monitor the amount of water used by the group. The National Federation of Group Water Schemes was established to represent the interests of the members of group water schemes. The Federation is advocating the provision of high-tech water treatment facilities for group schemes. This involves the grouping of schemes under a single contract that covers the building of these facilities and their subsequent operation and maintenance. [ [http://www.citizensinformation.ie/categories/environment/water-services/water_supply Citizens Information Board:Water supply in Ireland] ]

Financial aspects and efficiency

Although there are no domestic water charges in Ireland, the country has undertaken significant investments in water and sanitation. These investments were financed by the national government with support from the European Union. Despite these substantial investments, water leakage levels remain much higher than in England or in most other EU countries.

Tariffs

All water charges for domestic use in urban areas in Ireland were abolished on 1 January 1997. Domestic use is defined as drinking, washing, heating and sanitation. There are approximately one million domestic and 160,000 non-domestic water consumer connections. Non-domestic water charges - either flat rate or metered - are levied on businesses, schools, hospitals and other non-domestic users. Furthermore, members of rural “group water schemes” may pay for domestic water. [ [http://www.citizensinformation.ie/categories/environment/water-services/water_charges Citizens Information Board:Water supply in Ireland] ] In 2003 the charge per cubic metre for non-domestic uses averaged across all local authorities was €0.96. However there was a considerable variance in this charge, and the local authorities with the highest per unit costs were not always those experiencing the highest average cost of producing water to non-domestic users. [ http://www.wfdireland.ie/Documents/Characterisation%20Report/Chapter%205/Chapter%205%20-%20Economic%20Analysis%20of%20Water%20Use%202005%20v2.doc ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF WATER USE, 2005 ]

Usage by non-domestic customers is between 10% and 20% of total piped water use. According to one observer, the full cost recovery from all non-domestic customers could result in business facing a bill of between €500 million and €1 billion in capital charges alone. A 2003 survey carried out by the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) of 450 companies showed that the average increases in water costs were in the region of 47% between 2001 and 2003, while a similar survey of local authority water charges showed average increases of 90% since 2000, with significant impacts on hospitals, schools and farms that are classified as non-domestic users. [ [http://www.finegael.ie/news/index.cfm/type/details/nkey/24706 Speech by Bernard Allen TD Fine Gael Spokesperson on Environment and Local Government on the Water Services Bill 2004 in Dáil Éireann] 05.10.04 ]

Investments

Under the EU’s Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive 1991, local authorities are obliged to construct secondary and tertiary water treatment plants by 2008. Consequently, the major emphasis of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 was on the provision of wastewater facilities. New wastewater treatment plants were built in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, generating additional capacity equivalent to the needs of a population of 3.1 million. As a result, the pollutant load discharged into rivers, lakes and seas has been reduced by 45,000 tonnes per annum in a period of high economic and population growth. The compliance level under the EU Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive increased from 25% to 90%. Over the same period, drinking water treatment capacity has been increased by an amount sufficient to meet the needs of a population equivalent of 666,000 people. [ http://www.ndp.ie/documents/NDP2007-2013/NDP_Main_Ch07.pdf National Development Plan:Economic Infrastructure, p. 142 ]

For the National Development Plan 2007-2013 investments in water and sanitation will be €4.75 billion, or €680 million per year. The plan puts more emphasis on drinking water than on wastewater compared to the previous plan. [ http://www.ndp.ie/documents/NDP2007-2013/NDP_Main_Ch07.pdf National Development Plan:Economic Infrastructure, p. 142 ] According to the Environment department, €298 million has been spent just on leakage reduction measures between 2002 and 2007. In 2009 alone, a total of €96 million is forecast to be spent in this area. [ [http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0826/1219679951619.html Water charges not on agenda – Gormley] , Irish Times, August 26, 2008 ]

Financing and Subsidies

The funding for maintaining and improving the water supply and sanitation infrastructure comes from the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. [ [http://www.citizensinformation.ie/categories/environment/water-services/water_supply Citizens Information Board:Water supply in Ireland] ] Indirectly, substantial funding historically came and still comes to some extent from the European Union through its European Regional Development Fund. In addition, local authotrities levy planning contributions mainly for small capital improvements. Group scheme members are entitled to a subsidy from their local authority. After the abolition of domestic water charges in 1997, it was intended that this scheme would extend those benefits to households supplied by group water schemes. The amount of subsidy is 100% of the qualifying expenditure, meaning that all the running costs of the scheme are covered by the subsidy as long as they do not exceed the subsidy limit. The amount is around €50 per house per year. Group water schemes are also entitled to technical and grant assistance for any upgrading works that may need to be carried out.

Efficiency and levels of water leakage

A study carried out in Dublin in 1996 showed leakage levels of 40 per cent, due to corrosion in antiquated pipes. [ [http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0826/1219679951619.html Water charges not on agenda – Gormley] , Irish Times, August 26, 2008 ] According to another source, the Non-revenue water in Ireland stands at 50%, while it it is only 24% in England and Wales and less than 10% in other European countries such as Germany and Denmark. [ [http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/D/0589/D.0589.200410050024.html Debate on the Proposed Water Services Bill of 2003] , Dáil Éireann - Volume 589 - 05 October, 2004 ] As part of the National Water Study of 2000 a water audit was undertaken for 91 water schemes outside Dublin to establish levels of Non-revenue water (NRW). The report noted that the poor quality of data and the low level of consumer metering limit the reliability of their figures. They found an average level of NRW iof 47%, corresponding to 34 liter/connection/hour and 29 m3/km/day. [ [http://www.environ.ie/en/Environment/Water/WaterServices/PublicationsDocuments/FileDownLoad,566,en.pdf National Water Study] , WS Atkins Ireland p. 7 ] This compares to only 5 m3/km/day in England. [ [http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2007/09/25/000310607_20070925111156/Rendered/PDF/409640P0704130Public.pdf World Bank:Stepping Up] , p. 12 ]

History since 1977

See also
Economic history of the Republic of Ireland, Taxation in the Republic of Ireland

The first abolition of domestic water charges and attempts to reintroduce them

Domestic water rates in Ireland were for the first time abolished by a Fianna Fáil government, following the 1977 general election. In the same period, an increase took place in Income Tax and Value Added Tax. The money made from these increases, and from borrowing which was very high during the late 1970s and early 1980s, was to be used to fund the local authorities, who had previously relied on the domestic rates for their funding. From then on the central government paid a "rate support grant" to Local Authorities. [ [http://libcom.org/history/1993-1996-the-dublin-fight-against-water-charges 1993-1996: The Dublin fight against water charges] ]

However, in 1983 the then Fine Gael and Labour government decided to cut this grant and passed legislation to allow the councils to levy service charges. This was perceived by some as “double taxation”, since the previously increased taxes remained at their high levels. Opponents also argued that rates were unrelated to consumption and that there were insufficient provisions to protect the poor.

The Dublin fight against water charges 1994-1997

Many councils decided to introduce water charges, while others such as Dublin initially decided not to do so. When the Dublin local government changed course and introduced water charges in 1994, this was met by an Anti-Water Charges Campaign including demonstrations and a boycott of the new charges. The city threatened to cut the water supply to those who did not pay. After lengthy court battles, some non-paying users were cut off, but the non-payment of water charges continued. [ [http://libcom.org/history/1993-1996-the-dublin-fight-against-water-charges 1993-1996: The Dublin fight against water charges] ] On December 19th 1996, on the eve of general elections, the Minister for the Environment Brendan Howlin from the Labour Party of the Rainbow Government of Fine Gael–Labour Party–Democratic Left announced that the water charge was going to be replaced by a new system whereby the road tax collected in each area would be the source for local council funding.

The second abolition of domestic water charges and the 1998 water services pricing policy

Domestic water charges in Ireland were thus prohibited under the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1997, passed in May 1997 shortly before the June 1997 general elections in which Fine Gael lost to Fianna Fáil under Bertie Ahern. However, given popular discontent the new government chose not to pursue domestic water charges. Instead, it embarked on extensive consultations which resulted in the 1998 water services pricing policy. The policy banned cross-subsidy of domestic services from non-domestic charges and required the recovery of average operational and marginal capital costs of water services from all non-domestic users. It foresaw the metering of all non-domestic users by 2006. Domestic operational costs were to be met through the local government fund and capital costs through the capital programme of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. [ http://www.finegael.ie/news/index.cfm/type/details/nkey/24706 Speech by Bernard Allen TD Fine Gael Spokesperson on Environment and Local Government on the Water Services Bill 2004 in Dáil Éireann 05.10.04 ]

As a result, according to one critical observer, "a generation of people is growing up without realizing that water is expensive to deliver". According to a water industry source, Irish households use more water than UK metered equivalents. Investment costs are rising as water is accessed from further afield and from water bodies that are potentially sensitive fish habitats. [ [http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWRD/903845-1112344347411/20424161/31203ARDenoteWRMEIScott.pdf Susan Scott:Abolition of Domestic Water Charges in Ireland] , p. 2 ]

The proposed Water Services Bill 2003

The Water Services Bill 2003 was prepared under then Environment Minister, Martin Cullen of Fianna Fáil. The bill was designed to consolidate Ireland's existing body of 15 different enactments into a single act, and to transmit EU water legislation into Irish law. Cullen called it "the first root and branch consolidation and modernisation of water services law for more than 120 years since the Public Health (Ireland) Act 1878", adding that “like the Victorian sewers which we have upgraded or replaced, this Bill replaces Victorian legislation with a new modern legal framework." [ [http://www.edie.net/news/news_story.asp?id=7884 Environmental Data: Ireland: Water Services Bill 2003 published] , 19 December, 2003 ] The Bill only covers issues surrounding the management of water supply and sanitation, not wider environmental issues surrounding water resources.

In September 2004 Cullen's successor, Environment Minister Dick Roche, also of Fianna Fáil, had to defend the proposed bill in the Irish House of Representatives. There he was faced with charges that the bill was a "Trojan horse to introduce privatisation and domestic water charges". The opposition also criticized the lack of a statutory right of access to water in the bill, lack of public participation in the review of proposed strategic plans, calling the bill “a thinly disguised attempt to privatise the water supply” as well as “a formula to get around the 1997 Act and re-introduce water charges by another name.” [ [http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/D/0589/D.0589.200410050024.html Debate on the Proposed Water Services Bill of 2003] , Dáil Éireann - Volume 589 - 05 October, 2004 ] Ultimately, the bill was not passed and has since languished in various committees.

According to a commentator, if the Water Services Bill, 2003, had been passed earlier and implemented effectively, people would not now have had to boil their drinking water in Galway in 2007 because of an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis. [ [http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2007/0424/1177280102531.html Irish Times] , April 4, 2007 ]

The bill would provide the Minister with direct supervisory powers over delivery of public water services; introduce a licensing system to regulate the operations of group water services schemes; and place duties of care on users of water services in relation to water conservation and prevention of risk to public health and the environment. The licensing system would mean the largest 1,500 group water schemes would have to get a licence and meet stringent conditions before they will be allowed to continue in business. Under these arrangements, local authorities would be given powers to prosecute group water schemes if they provide polluted water supplies. The introduction of licensing was proposed against the background of the 2002 European Court of Justice judgement against Ireland in relation to quality problems in the group water services sector. [ [http://www.edie.net/news/news_story.asp?id=7884 Environmental Data: Ireland: Water Services Bill 2003 published] , 19 December, 2003 ]

The Bill anticipates the growing involvement of public private partnerships, PPPs, in the provision of water services. Accodring to the Minister, neither PPPs nor related design, build and operate arrangements are precursors to the privatisation of water services. They would involve the contracting of private sector expertise to perform functions on behalf of contracting water authorities. Assets would remain in the full ownership of the relevant authority or group water scheme. [ [http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/D/0589/D.0589.200410050024.html Debate on the Proposed Water Services Bill of 2003] , Dáil Éireann - Volume 589 - 05 October, 2004 ]

Proposal by the Institute of Engineers of Ireland

In 2003 the Institution of Engineers of Ireland recommended a comprehensive review of the organisation arrangements for delivery of water services with the adoption of a regional approach based on river catchment. It has also called for the establishment of a water services regulator to set standards and targets for service delivery by these water authorities and to approve water charge mechanisms and charges. It further called for the reduction of leakage losses from a 2000 average of 47% to 20%; the upgrade of the water pipe network, much of which is in poor condition; and meeting the challenges of climate change. [ [http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/D/0589/D.0589.200410050024.html Debate on the Proposed Water Services Bill of 2003] , Dáil Éireann - Volume 589 - 05 October, 2004 ]

Recent debates

In 2008 the Minister for the Environment John Gormley, also the Green Party leader and former Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1994–1995 during the water charges conflict, said that domestic water charges will not be introduced during the lifetime of the current government. He also said water shortages will be a key issue that Ireland will have to grapple with in the future. The Minister said there were other ways of tackling potential shortages which have already left some larger urban areas – particularly Dublin – struggling to meet demand during prolonged dry spells. The main focus of government policy would be to reduce the leakages from main water supply pipes. [ [http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0826/1219679951619.html Water charges not on agenda – Gormley] , Irish Times, August 26, 2008 ] Both main opposition parties – Labour and Fine Gael - oppose water charges.

While taxes used to be very high in Ireland, this is not necessarily the case any more. The share of total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP in Ireland was only 31.2% in 2003. This compares to 51.4% in Sweden, 49.4% in Denmark, 42% in the United Kingdom and 29.1% in Latvia. Currently Ireland scores 4th lowest in Europe. [Citation
url=http://www.finfacts.com/irelandbusinessnews/publish/article_1000284.shtml
title=EU tax burden in 2003 ranged from 29% of GDP in Lithuania, 31.2% in Ireland, to 51% in Sweden
date=January 28, 2005
accessdate=November 30, 2007
] The argument of "double taxation" used against domestic water charges thus seems to be less valid in today's Irish economy.

One observer suggested that if domestic water tariffs should be introduced it should be together with at least some form of financial compensation for those most in need, and with metering. [ [http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWRD/903845-1112344347411/20424161/31203ARDenoteWRMEIScott.pdf Susan Scott:Abolition of Domestic Water Charges in Ireland] , p. 3 ]

References


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