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Irish Water

'Failures in communication' highlighted by water body over treatment plant incidents

The Water Advisory Body said “it is alarmed at the length of the boil water notices” over the past two years.

A water oversight body has said it is concerned by incidents at two water treatment plants which resulted in over 50 people falling ill.

The Water Advisory Body (WAB) highlighted the risk to public health and failures in communication and escalation around the incidents which occurred in August, affecting the supply in Dublin and Wexford.

They occurred at the Creagh Water Treatment Plant in Gorey, which is operated by Wexford County Council, and the Ballymore Eustace Water Treatment Plant which is operated by Dublin City Centre.

It is the latest oversight body to criticise Irish Water for its handling of the incidents, as the Environmental Protection Agency said last month that they were an “abject failure of managerial oversight, operational control and responsiveness” by Irish Water and the local authorities overseeing the sites.  

The EPA had said the incidents were not reported by the local councils and Irish Water, which prevented a timely risk assessment of the incidents, resulting in “unacceptable delays” in notifying the EPA and HSE.

In its report, the WAB said “it is alarmed at the length of the boil water notices”, with the last seven quarters reporting ‘long-term notices’ which had been in place for more than 30 days.

“The WAB would like to see boil water notices in place for as short a period as possible,” it said in a statement. 

The Advisory Body said it is a “cause for alarm” that a list for remedial water supplies has increased by five to 53 since it last reported.

It went on to say that it noted a welcome decrease in the population served thanks to the removal of Leixlip from the list.

There has been a sustained drop off in the number of leak repairs carried out by customers, the body said.

There highest number of leak repairs carried out by customers were completed in 2016, whilst the lowest number was completed in the second quarter of 2020.

“However, the WAB welcome the introduction of the Household Water Conservation Policy, anticipating this will encourage customers to avail of the First Fix Free Scheme,” it added.

Responding to the body’s report, an Irish Water spokesman said it was important to note that WAB acknowledges progress being made by the utility provider in providing a safe water supply. 

Irish Water response

The building, repair and upgrading of Irish Water’s water treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants, water and sewer networks will require a multi-billion euro investment programme over many years, the spokesman said. 

Speaking about Irish Water’s investment priorities, Niall Gleeson, Managing Director of Irish Water, said: “Despite a range of challenges, including historic under-investment in water and wastewater infrastructure, Irish Water is making significant progress.

“Continued investment saw over half a million customers removed from at-risk water supplies, major infrastructure projects delivered, over 99% of our drinking water was compliant with regulations and we have reduced raw sewage discharges nationally by over 60%.”

He added that significant progress has been noted in a number of areas, “notably reductions in the number of customers on oil water notices and the number of areas that are non-compliant with the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive”, saying boil water notices have been “eliminated boil” for an estimated 1.6 million people since 2014.

‘Much more remains to be done’

“In 2020 alone we carried out works to remove almost 80,000 people from boil water notices, benefiting local communities and businesses,” Gleeson said.

“When a boil water notice is issued, this reflects Irish Water’s commitment to protect public health through improved testing and monitoring of water supplies.

“The report is clear, however, that much more remains to be done. Irish Water’s Strategic Funding Plan sets out our ambition for the building, repair and upgrading of Irish Water’s water treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants, water and sewer network.

“The plan will require a multi-billion euro investment programme over many years with close to €900 million being spent on capital investment in 2021.” 

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