Thursday, 3 February 2005
Water Services Bill 2003 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).
Bernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
There is a relevance, but I do not wish to pour cold water on it just yet. The issue relates to who will run the services in the future, because obviously it will not be the local authorities. A structure will be introduced, which is allowed for under the Bill. However, it could be the local authorities. Up to three or four years ago, local group water schemes were set up by local community groups with whom the Minister's Department dealt directly. A liaison officer and engineer, who was always very helpful, dealt directly with the local people whether they were public representatives or community leaders, and the job was carried out. The responsibility now lies with the local authorities. When one rings up the local authority, no one answers the phone, they are at a meeting, they are returning from a meeting, they have not yet reached the next meeting or they are away, which is a serious problem.
These services will be replaced by something else. The Minister is heading for a situation where he could almost shut down the whole place. He could get someone to produce a report once or twice a year. These are ineffective and they are becoming less and less effective. I will say more about that another time. While I spoke in the House during the dual mandate debate, I intend to return to the subject at an opportune time in the future to address the issues that now arise as a result of the passing of that legislation. I am aware that officials in the Department will laugh at my comments. I know why the legislation was introduced in the first place, but I will say more about that later.
I return to the lack of progress in addressing issues relevant to the water supply and quality of water. Some of my colleagues referred to the advisability of having colour codes for water, such as brown water, clean water and so on. It appears that in Holland water is recycled approximately seven times and in Belgium it is recycled six times and so on.
There is merit in one simple thing, which should have been done a long time ago. In rural areas, in particular, some builders provide a major water container during the construction of each dwelling. This means that roof water is collected, stored and pumped for domestic purposes other than for drinking. The water quality is perfect and prior to this many people used rain water for drinking water. There is no problem with that because it contains just what is in the atmosphere. To move that agenda forward, it might be possible to consider either a tax incentive or some other incentive to encourage the provision of major water storage tanks adjacent to houses. There is nothing to prevent that from happening in an urban setting. It would mean that people would have two types of water supply, one which is gathered free from the air and the other which is the domestic water supply. It would have advantages in that it would help to eliminate flooding because instead of the water being discharged immediately into ditches, water courses and shores, it will have the effect of storing the water at a crucial time.
The amount of water that could be stored to alleviate flooding following 24-hour rainfall is surprising. There is no reason this should not be satisfactory and beneficial because it is soft water. As it is not hard water, it is amenable to metals, pipes, utensils and so on, therefore, it has a huge number of advantages. It does not have an iron or lime content. It is effectively distilled water. Perhaps the Minister will examine the prospect of utilising in the future this freely available water supply.
I want to refer to the degree to which we get advice on how to manage water levels, deal with development in the countryside and manage the environment in an eco-friendly manner. It is becoming increasingly difficult because, as the population increases, so too will the number of demands on the environment, whether water or other services. It is interesting that there are still sceptic tanks in Brussels and several other European cities. Even though sceptic tanks have been advanced as a result of modern technology and so on, they still exist. Yet experts on housing tell us that we can no longer have sceptic tanks because they cause pollution. That is not necessarily the case if they are operated properly.
I was amused to read the overview of the Bill. It reads that the Bill concerns itself only with the actual provision of water services, in other words, the administration of water services. Why does it not seek directly to take on board wider environmental issues surrounding water resources such as pollution control; water quality in its broadest sense; river basin management, etc?