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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 5 April, 2020
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During the drought, some areas were losing half of their water supply because of leaks

While the country faced water restrictions, 50% of water was leaking in some Irish Water schemes.

IRISH WATER SAYS the country cannot sustain a position where it is losing half of its water supply through leaks, particularly during periods of drought that were seen this summer, and warned that more extensive restrictions may still have to be put in place.

The utility’s managing director advised the heads of Irish local authorities that high levels of water leakage during the drought conditions in July did not represent a “credible position”.

Documents released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act show that as water restrictions and the hosepipe ban came into effect, Irish Water was suffering “high leakage levels up to 50% in many schemes”.

Jerry Grant also told the chief executives of the 31 local authorities around the country on 2 July that the company was “very concerned” about the possibility of having to introduce “more comprehensive restrictions in the long-term” as the country reeled from the sustained heatwave.

The midst of the crisis

Grant’s email on 2 July came after a week of soaring temperatures led Irish Water to implement a hosepipe ban in the greater Dublin area, taking effect from that day.

In correspondence with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Irish Water began providing regular updates on issues around water restrictions in early June.

Residents in the north Dublin town of Skerries were told to “continue conserving water for the foreseeable future” as restrictions were put in place there weeks before the heatwave began.

Irish Water provided an update to the department on the situation, and the department requested a further update from the company on 18 June after an article in the Irish Times warned of water shortage fears due to the hot weather forecast.

It told the department: “If supply consistently meets or exceeds demand there may be water outages in the Greater Dublin Area…

Current storage in reservoirs in the Greater Dublin Area means there would have to [be] sustained drought or increased demand of 1-2% before water outages would be implemented in the region.

It was from 25 June that the heatwave really began to kick in, with the country basking in temperatures approaching 30 degrees.

It was from this point onwards that Irish Water began to send regular updates – two to three a week – to the department, including detailed information on the water levels across the country.

As seen here, there were a number of days where supply outstripped demand in the Greater Dublin Area in June.

foi water 1

As well as its regular updates, Irish Water also furnished its press releases to the department to keep it abreast of what was being communicated to the public.

One of these updates, on 29 June when the weather was still scorching, showed just how many areas of the country were affected by demand outstripping supply.

demand outstrip supply

It was at this same time that Irish Water was telling the public that it was considering “all available legal options as a last resort to protect water supplies”, which led to the introduction of the hosepipe ban in the Greater Dublin Area.

Crisis mode

As the ban came into effect, Irish Water CEO Grant sent that email to the 31 local authority CEOs.

jerry grant

He began by acknowledging the efforts from local authority management, staff and crews before warning that Irish Water remained “very concerned about the possibility of having to introduce more comprehensive restrictions in the long-term”, given the lack of major rainfall or even a forecast of rain at that time.

Grant went on: “While supplies are under pressure, we are still suffering high leakage levels up to 50% in many schemes.

This is not a credible position and while progress has been made in recent months in bringing further leakage reduction resources, much more is needed to avert supply scarcity and to achieve credible levels of leakage.

He said that Irish Water had allocated major funding for “find & fix” activities, but that take-up had been delayed because discussions on use of contractors had been “protracted”.

Grant asked the CEOs for their assistance in getting crews to work on priority leakages, while also asking for their assistance with water conservation.

He even highlighted areas that the public had been bringing to their attention.

He noted: “Areas like watering in parks and washing down pavements are being highlighted to us by members of the public. In the current situation of constrained supplies, I would ask that you might bring this to the attention of the relevant managers so that there is a consistency of approach towards this issue during the crisis.”

National conservation order

The department was informed on 4 July, then, that the hosepipe ban in Dublin would extend nationwide.

On this date, Irish Water told the department that nine of its schemes across the country were in emergency drought status, 38 were in drought status and a further 67 were potentially at risk of drought.

In an update the following day, it appears the crisis was continuing to exacerbate.

Irish Water said: “Our water supplies are running low and demand across the country remains high, up to 20% above average levels. Met Éireann predicts little or no rainfall for the next 10 days.

It is essential that our water supply sources are conserved to help avoid further restrictions over the coming weeks and months.

This message also confirmed a lower demand in the Dublin area, just a few days after the introduction of the hosepipe ban.

Over the next few days, a variety of updates were furnished to the department as the hot, dry weather continued and the national hosepipe ban came into effect.

After a meeting where Minister Eoghan Murphy was present, a department official said: “Probably the key message from this morning’s meeting is that strengthened measures will need to be taken if water supply to the Greater Dublin Region is to be protected into late summer/autumn.”

Murphy would later say as much in an interview with RTÉ Radio One’s Drivetime programme.

As the messages about the importance of water conservation were repeated, and the introduction of the hosepipe ban in Dublin, it led to a decrease in demand in the region but supply also continued to dwindle.

dwindling supply

At a meeting on 10 July involving stakeholders from Irish Water, the department and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others, it was noted that “people are making a good effort to conserve water”.

It was also noted that Irish Water would “word potential positive action messages for [the] public messaging campaign”.

It also added that “Irish Water may require support to implement drinking water plans, supplying tankered and bottled water in areas where the water supply is disrupted – similar to previous severe weather events.”

Drought warnings continued throughout the month of July, as rain was in short supply throughout the country.

The lack of any kind of substantial rain until this month led Irish Water to warn that the hosepipe ban could be extended into October in some areas, as the problems caused by the unprecedented heatwave show no signs of abating any time soon.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for Irish Water said that leakage from the water supply networks is “one of the biggest medium term challenges facing the water sector in Ireland”.

“Average current unaccounted for water [is] estimated at 45% nationally and 37%  in the Greater Dublin Area where supply and demand are finely balanced,” the spokesperson said.

These leakage rates in Ireland are the product of decades of poor pipe laying practice, poor network & demand data, inadequate levels of leakage detection and repair. While pipe bursts are easily identified and quickly repaired due to loss of service, the bulk of leakage is from countless points of weakness at small cracks, joints, fittings and connections that are both difficult to locate and repair.

The spokesperson added that Irish Water will be working with local authorities over the next few years to mobilise an “intensive find and fix” to meet targets for reducing water leakage.

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Sean Murray

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