Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

5:00 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)

I thank the Deputies for their comments. As the report yesterday by the Comptroller and Auditor General shows, there is a real problem in Ireland with unaccounted-for water, with losses in 2009 ranging from in excess of 21% to in excess of 58% across counties, a slight increase on the position reported for 2008. I agree with both Deputies that these levels of leakage are far too high and that progress in addressing the problem has been far too slow. Tackling this problem was one of the key motivations behind the Government's decision to establish Irish Water.

A significant proportion of unaccounted-for water is due to leaks in the water supply system. Such leaks can occur in both the mains distribution network and on the customer side of the connections. Water conservation has been identified as a key priority under the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's water services investment programme 2010 to 2012. The programme provides for the commencement of water conservation contracts to the value of €321 million over the programme period, subject to the overall budgetary position.

The primary objective of water conservation is to reduce water loss and leakage in the distribution networks to an economic level and to address high levels of unaccounted-for water. Reducing leakage to zero would be extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive. The aim is to achieve an economic level of leakage whereby it costs more to make further reductions in water loss than to produce additional water.

In the past ten years, €168 million was invested in water conservation. Most of the effort to date has been focused on putting in water management systems to allow for active leakage control and better planning of mains rehabilitation. At this stage, most local authorities have prepared water mains rehabilitation strategies which have allowed a significant acceleration in the approval of mains rehabilitation contracts and works this year.

Ireland is unique among OECD countries in not charging households for water. The programme for Government provides for the introduction of water charges based on a new and fair funding model and this is also a requirement of the agreement between Ireland and the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The programme for Government proposes that water meters will be installed in households connected to public water supplies and that a new charging system will be introduced with water charges based on usage.

Experience from the metering of the non-domestic sector and from metering of some group water supplies would suggest that customer side leakage levels are a significant factor in overall unaccounted-for water. Installing water meters encourages households to reduce consumption, use water efficiently and fix leaks where these are identified. Metered charges are also the fairest way to charge for water. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is preparing a strategy to implement the new charging regime.


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