Thursday, 12 July 2018
Water Conservation: Statements
I have a published statement that will be circulated to Members from which I will read excerpts due to the restriction on time. I thank the House for making time available to make these statements today.
Despite the temperatures having fallen back to more normal values this week, Met Éireann is forecasting only small amounts of rain for the rest of this week and most of next week as well. This means that there will be little or no alleviation in the drought conditions we are currently experiencing. The drought conditions are expected to persist in the medium and longer term.
However, the main feature of the weather, along with the sunshine, has been the absence of rain, which has given us drought. The main consequences of this are for our water supplies, for water quality and inland fisheries, for wildlife and fires and for agriculture.
Probably the single biggest challenge arising from the drought conditions for the coming weeks, if not months, will be maintaining drinking water supply across the country. Irish Water has been managing a very difficult and evolving situation and is doing everything possible to maintain supplies. The Irish Water crisis management team began work as soon as this warm weather came into view in June and is meeting daily to monitor both demand and water supply production capacity around the country, and is taking steps to supply water where supplies are at risk. Water production is being maintained at record levels to deal with the increased demand. Local authority crews are busy identifying and fixing leaks to take pressure off the system and Irish Water has mobilised additional crews at critical locations to support local authority efforts. Irish Water has extended the ban on the use of hosepipes in domestic settings nationwide with effect from midnight on 5 July and is urging people everywhere to conserve water.
I have visited its headquarters with the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, to see the work it is doing and we must give credit to its team for the proactive approach it has taken to date. Of its nearly 1,000 water supply systems, nine schemes are currently experiencing severe drought, 51 are in drought condition and a further 77 are in potential drought situations. Irish Water is implementing its response plans to provide supplies of water to customers in schemes affected by the current drought conditions. We have been working to ensure inter-agency collaboration and support for Irish Water in putting in place alternative water supplies and distribution arrangements for those schemes already experiencing severe drought conditions. The agriculture community and those with their own wells are also affected, as groundwater levels in aquifers are declining. The National Federation of Group Water Schemes has issued advice on conservation measures and is working to support its members on the ground.
The overriding concern will be for the longer term and the supply of drinking water in late summer and autumn. There appears to be little prospect of getting the levels of rainfall that would alleviate the drought conditions in the short term. As the drought is likely to persist, and groundwater and lake and river levels come under greater pressure right across the country, it is prudent to introduce restrictions such as reduced water pressure at night on a much wider scale with a view to conserving our water supplies in the longer term. We need to plan not merely for July or August but also for September and even October.
It is critically important that everybody - businesses and private individuals - makes every effort to support the responsible use of water. This means avoiding unnecessary usage, repairing leaks promptly and generally conserving water.
On Tuesday, 26 June, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine issued a national "condition red" wild land fire danger notice in response to the drought resulting from the warm weather event. This was extended on 6 July and again yesterday as drought conditions persist and vegetation remains extremely dry and flammable right across the country. Fire services are making up to 100 responses to wild land fire incidents every day, which represents a decrease since the peak of 160 responses per day on 3 July. Although fire services are coping with the current level of incidents, the number of incidents to which they normally respond every day has doubled and this is putting pressure on fire services. I wish to express my appreciation for the Air Corps helicopter personnel who have been called in to assist with wild land fire-fighting for the past two weeks.
As the drought continues, flammable conditions for fire will remain. This underlines the need for care to prevent wild land fires from starting. Controlled burning of stubble by farmers is banned by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Social media is being used to make people aware of the wild land fire risk. People visiting or hiking in the countryside should not light fires. Reports indicate that a significant number of recent wild land fires were caused by careless discarding of matches and cigarette ends. We must sustain our fire prevention efforts. Smoke from wild land fires can cause issues with air quality. Our local authority fire services are working with the EPA and the HSE to monitor situations which could cause difficulties for people who are susceptible to breathing difficulties.
As the lead Department for co-ordinating the response to severe weather events, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has been active since 21 June and is continuing to work closely with the sectors most affected by the current conditions. The drought is presenting the biggest challenge at the moment. Along with the Minister of State, Deputy Boxer Moran, I attended the weekly inter-agency review meeting that was held yesterday, at which consideration was given to issues arising from the drought associated with the extended period of warm weather being enjoyed in this country. Last week, we appealed to the public to use water sparingly and to prevent wild land fires during what looks like being a long period of dry weather. Our view is that no emerging public safety issues at this time warrant the convening of the national emergency co-ordination group. The national directorate for fire and emergency management will keep the situation under review. The current level of co-ordination with relevant sectors will be continued to manage the issues within their remit.
As well as being winter-ready, we now have to be summer-ready. Householders, farmers and businesses of all kinds have to conserve water at every opportunity. We need to think about resilience and how we will cope if supplies are reduced. There might be a small amount of rain in the days ahead, but it will not change the overall picture. We have to conserve our water supplies for the weeks and months ahead. The evidence we heard at yesterday’s meeting indicates that people are heeding the conserve water message and being careful about fires. Water consumption has stabilised and the number of wild land fires is down. I thank the public for its response and for the community spirit that has been shown to date. I encourage all citizens to continue do their part in conserving our water supplies and preventing fires. This will allow people to enjoy the summer while the drought issues that are arising throughout the county are managed.
The unprecedented drought we are experiencing this summer has highlighted the need to invest in water infrastructure and boost water conservation. We all understand the importance of water. Citizens are now beginning to realise how important it is. Night-time restrictions on water pressure have been introduced. The commercial and industrial sector values water. The farming sector is being affected by the ongoing water shortages. The drought is having huge implications. As a commercial water user, I appreciate the value and importance of water if my business is to survive. What is happening is something I have not seen before in my lifetime. The river that runs by our hotel is currently no more than a stream. One could barely float a stick in it. We would normally associate such water levels with the middle or end of September, but we are now seeing them in July. It is an extremely worrying experience. I acknowledge the work that is being done in the Vartry reservoir. The Government has committed to the upgrading of the wastewater plant there and the pipe network. Vartry reservoir was full this year for the first time in three years. When I pass it each day, I can see the water level dropping. I think this is driving home what the real message needs to be.
It is vital for the Government to implement in full the recommendations of the special Oireachtas committee on water charges.
Ireland has a high level of water availability and relatively low consumption levels. This means that fully funding infrastructure investment and promoting water conservation are key components in addressing the long-term issues that are features of our water crisis. I suppose addressing the leakages is one of the key parts of that. When the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government discussed this matter recently, it was worrying to hear that 207 megalitres of water is wasted on a daily basis. The Government's investment over a 30-year period is supposed to reduce the daily level of wastage to 140 megalitres. There needs to be a greater emphasis on addressing water leakages. There is a high level of water availability in Ireland. Research shows that Ireland has one of the highest rates of water availability in the world. We have renewable water resources of approximately 13,000 megalitres per capitaper annum. The equivalent figure for France is 3,371 megalitres and for Israel is just 225 megalitres. This clearly indicates that Ireland needs to investment in infrastructure and in repairing water leakages. Like everyone else, the councillors in my local area have seen many water leakages over the years. We have had to wait ten or 15 years for burst pipes to be replaced. When this eventually happens, we see the significant savings that immediately accrue. We need to invest more in critical infrastructure and in repairing leakages. I acknowledge how our citizens have reacted to the recent water shortages. I thank them for acting responsibly to save water as often as they can. It is only now that Irish Water is beginning to promote the importance of water conservation on a domestic basis. In line with the need to implement ways of saving water, soft supports are needed to educate people on an ongoing basis about the best ways to save water at home, in commercial businesses and in agriculture.
I want to start by making a statement that I rarely make in this House. I fully support the core message we have heard from the Minister and, indeed, from other public authorities in recent weeks as well. Many of us have had huge concerns about the Government's water policy over the years. We have significant concerns about the structure and operation of Irish Water. Leaving all of that aside, anybody who looks at the facts in a reasonable manner, particularly in the context of recent weather events, will acknowledge that we have a supply problem. While we have political differences on some of the core issues, we all need to emphasise the message of conservation. It is important to make it clear that the heaviest burden of conservation needs to fall on the shoulders of those responsible for the largest levels of waste in our system. Domestic users have a role to play and the evidence shows they are playing that role very well. However, it is crucial for business and for the Government to play their part as well. It is worth emphasising, as we always do during these debates, that the State - now through the infrastructure managed by Irish Water - is the single biggest waster of water. This point has already been highlighted by Deputy Casey. Some 36% of water in the greater Dublin water supply area is lost in the distribution system. The relevant figures for the Dublin county and Dublin city areas, respectively, are 40% and 50%. The weather event is not at the core of this problem and nor is excessive use by large numbers of households. As a consequence of decades of under-investment, we have a system that is leaking phenomenal volumes of expensively treated water.
Irish Water's figures are startling. It is probable that approximately 610 million litres are available in the greater Dublin water supply region each day.On the basis of comments made by Irish Water yesterday and today, it appears that the current level of demand is approximately 568 million litres per day. According to Irish Water's own figures, some 207 million litres are lost in the greater Dublin supply area every day. Deputies will be aware that Emma Kennedy has been campaigning on water issues for a long time. She calculates in an interesting article in The Irish Timestoday that the level of daily water loss in the greater Dublin supply area is close to 300 million litres. Regardless of the exact figure, it is clear that there is a phenomenal volume of loss. While I clearly and unequivocally support the Minister in calling for conservation, we also need to hear from him an outline of what the Government intends to do differently from what is currently in the pipeline to try to reduce the phenomenal level of leakage. It is significant that Irish Water's capital investment programme will increase by €200 million to €777 million next year.
It is to increase again to €728 million in 2020 and to €806 million in 2021.
One of the conversations we keep having with Irish Water representatives when they appear before the committee concerns why it is not possible to accelerate the water loss reduction programme. Irish Water is talking about saving approximately 44 million litres per day by 2021. That is a saving of only 11 million litres per day in the greater Dublin region each year over the next four years. I just do not understand why it is not possible to accelerate the rate of saving to prioritise, alongside tackling the problem with wastewater treatment plants, having a more aggressive level of leakage reduction. The housing committee, which is responsible for oversight of this issue, has heard evidence of much more successful rates of leakage reduction elsewhere, for example, in London, which faces many of the problems faced in Dublin owing to high levels of urban infrastructural development complicating the replacement of pipes, etc. I urge the Minister to re-examine the issue of how to fast-track and take a more aggressive approach to reduction, be it today or at a later stage.
Some commentators and Members of this House, although not the Minister, have been claiming that if water charges had been introduced in 2014, the situation would somehow be different today. That is simply not the case. Irish Water's capital investment plan is exactly the same today as it was when water charges were first mooted. The only difference is that money that would have come from charges comes from general taxation. In fact, the level of investment in capital infrastructure upgrades, including leak reduction, is exactly the same. Therefore, having raised money through water charges as opposed to general taxation would have made no difference.
The crucial issue is whether that level of investment can and should be increased. If the Minister is in a position today or later in the week to say, in his public commentary, whether there are intentions, particularly in light of budget 2019, to enter into discussions with Irish Water to determine whether some of that capital infrastructure upgrading could be brought forward, it would be useful.
Some people will attempt to use the water shortage to accelerate the implementation of the Shannon–Dublin water supply pipeline proposal. While my party is clear that it is not against the proposition of piping water to the city in principle, it believes that, with such severe leakage and the unevidenced argument that aquifers in the greater Dublin region are not available, there are still questions to be answered. I would welcome clarification and further statements from the Minister with respect to that.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I support the Minister's call for ongoing vigilance in the conservation of water. It is important that this message go out today because people have seen a little drop of rain here and there and they might believe the crisis is over. It is not and there is still a serious problem producing sufficient water for domestic, business and agricultural use. We all support the call.
I too want to address the issue of leaks. The article in The Irish Timesthat was just referred to might overestimate slightly the volume of water leaked in Dublin but there is certainly a serious problem. If the leaked water does not amount to half the 600 million litres used in the greater Dublin area, it probably amounts to at least 40% of that. That has to be tackled.
There is serious concern about the proposal to bring water to Dublin from the Parteen Basin, just below Lough Derg, which is close to where I live. I do not know whether Members have read any local Limerick newspapers in the past week. There was a photograph of a man in the middle of the River Shannon between Thomond Bridge and Sarsfield Bridge with a picnic table, chair and a sun umbrella. He was sitting on his chair in the middle of the river with water up to a certain level, but not up to the level of the table. Therefore, there is a serious water shortage in the river. This alerts people in the mid-west to the concerns that exist. I acknowledge the argument made by Irish Water that the water taken will result in only a tiny reduction in the level of the Parteen Basin. I reiterate the concern that there should be some control from the mid-west if the project is to go ahead. The local authorities in the mid-west should have the capacity to say Dublin is not getting any more water from the area if it is needed in the region. I have seen all the technical arguments and I understand the problem in Dublin but the problem of leakage needs to be addressed.
The context of this debate was described in the debate on fossil fuels, which I just listened to. It covered the reality of climate change and how it affects us here in addition to people in other parts of the world who are much more vulnerable. We have seen evidence of climate change ourselves, with both the dry spell and the snow that fell unseasonably earlier in the year. People in Ireland are beginning to realise this is a reality. Whatever Mr. Donald Trump and others may say, climate change is an absolute reality.
A colleague in my constituency, Deputy Michael Noonan, famously said we should get the dead cat off the pitch, the dead cat being the issue of water charges. There is an element — maybe it is a little bit of the cat — that still needs to be addressed, namely, the issue of wastage and overuse of water, be it by domestic or business users. People have been careful about conserving water and realise there should be some punishment for excessive use. Businesses, in particular, have been highlighted. I do not know whether Members read the article by Stephen Kinsella in The Sunday Business Postat the weekend. He wrote an extensive article on the volume of water that is used apart from domestic water. Therefore, it is a broader issue. There has to be some kind of cost recovery for the State where there is wastage of water. There are legitimate uses for water in business, agriculture and the domestic environment. These uses should be understood as important for people in their homes and for jobs but here has to be some way in which wastage can be addressed, wherever it occurs.
Now that time has elapsed since the debates at meetings of the water committee and debates prior to those, I hope it will be possible to talk about this issue again in a real way, based on the acknowledgement that there genuinely is wastage. We now know from experience in the recent past and from the fact that we will still be conserving water in the future, what a precious commodity treated water is. We must ensure that we look after it and deal with the pipes and wastage, and that we are all careful about how we use this precious resource.
I endorse the call and encourage people to continue to conserve water. I agree that this definitely concerns domestic users but it also concerns businesses and the State. That is the immediate answer to the crisis we face in ensuring we do not run out of water. That immediate answer does not point to the cause of the crisis, however, or to what it is fundamentally about. As has been referred to in the debate, it is the absence of investment in water infrastructure over many years. We have a classic example of Noam Chomsky's description of the standard technique of privatisation, which is to defund and make sure something does not work in order that people will get angry and the infrastructure can be handed over to private capital. He left out an intermediate step that, which is the commodification of water through water charges.
It has been suggested that if we had water charges, we would not have this crisis. Thankfully this argument has not featured in the debate. It is factually incorrect because we would have had the exact same level of investment from Irish Water that we currently have. Therefore, we would be in the same circumstances.
The fundamental answer is investment in our water infrastructure. The Irish Water investment plan is inadequate because it does not deal with the deficit that built up over many years. There has been an average investment of approximately €500 million since 2000. We are facing an investment of approximately €680 million per year but that needs to be raised to €1 billion per year.
The only recommendation of the Oireachtas committee on water charges that the Government seems to be interested in implementing is that on charging for excessive water use. The referendum does not seem to be coming. The many conservation measures that were recommended by the committee have not been implemented.
They included a call for the introduction of a scheme like the building energy rating, BER, but also for water conservation, a proactive retrofitting programme to provide for the maximum level of water conservation, an ambitious amendment to existing building standards and regulations and an education campaign, such as that which exists in Wales. We need action on these matters now in order that we might deal with conservation.
Given the current drought and water shortages, people should conserve water as best they can in order that we do not run out of supplies. However, somewhat cynical attempts have been made - not here today but I have heard them in the House in the past week, particularly from Government Deputies - to suggest that if there had been water charges, this would not be happening or we would have the means to deal with it. That is completely disingenuous, not just because the investment programme of Irish Water would have been the same but also because this problem has existed through the entire history of the State. I do not know how many Members have read Ulyssesby James Joyce but in "Ithaca", the second last chapter, there is an extensive passage in which he describes the capacity limitations of the Vartry reservoir in Roundwood, the problems with the pipes, the rationing of water during a drought period and the corruption of the municipal guardians of Dublin, who were responsible for imposing the rations, in using excessive amounts of water while the people paid the price for it. Ulysses was written at the time of the First World War. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been in government ever since and have not addressed the problem that James Joyce identified in 1914. That is how long this has been happening.
Water was the first thing hit when Fianna Fáil and the Green Party imposed austerity in 2010 by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. The policy of austerity was then continued by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. A €50 million annual reduction in investment was implemented on already historically low levels of investment in water infrastructure. The people and individual householders are not to blame. We have lower household use of water than anywhere in Europe. The problem is a failure to invest in fixing water infrastructure. I hope this heatwave will be a wake-up call for the Government. We must dramatically ramp up investment in water infrastructure. Could we not ask the corporations to pay an extra few bob for the water they use?
Is Ireland going to grind to a halt every time there is some snow or a heatwave? Storm Emma left thousands without water and, during the hottest summer for decades, Irish Water has implemented a hosepipe ban and called on householders to conserve water by taking four-minute showers, using a cup when cleaning teeth and only using their washing machines when full or when necessary. That is right. We are in a difficult situation and people should think before they use water. However, one thing is clear - this is not about a lack of water. At a press conference last week John Douglas, the general secretary of the Mandate trade union, made the point that there are copious amounts of water in this country over the 52 weeks of the year. The problem is the infrastructure. It is a question of fixing pipes, investment in reservoirs, investment in dual water systems, building standards, retrofitting and house insulation. All of these would make a huge difference in water conservation. According to Emma Kennedy in today's edition of The Irish Times, "No region in Ireland has insufficient water for supply". Every day, Irish Water puts twice as much water into the system as is needed because more water is wasted through leaks than is used by all the households and even industry in Ireland.
Ireland's level of leakage is the highest in western Europe because its pipes have been neglected for decades. Twelve years ago Dublin City Council said that the mains are so ancient that leaving them alone is not an option. Unfortunately, they have practically have been left alone. The pipes are now at breaking point. The main problem with having such decrepit pipes is that they cannot tolerate cold snaps or long dry spells because when the ground shifts, they burst. Irish Water agrees that the water infrastructure needs upgrading but a reference to leakage was noticeably absent from its recent statements. It stated that more than 600 million litres of water are being used in Dublin but there was no acknowledgement that practically 300 million litres are being used in the true sense of the word as the other 300 million litres are being wasted, mainly by Irish Water.
Far more water is lost through network leakage than is used by households yet the finger is continuously pointed at householders. The implication is that there is excessive use. That is not true. Irish people use considerably less water per head than the European average. The latest first fix report shows that once households are notified about leaks in their homes their response is outstanding. Irish Water has repaired 8% of the leaks identified while householders have repaired 36%, despite no financial incentives to do so. Household leakage was cut by almost 40 million litres in two years. The target was 11 million in 39 years. Householders have not just met their leakage targets they have smashed them, which is more than Irish Water has done. Irish Water is nowhere near meeting its target. Between 2011 and 2021, it was supposed to reduce the network leakage from 205 million litres to 166 million litres. Two thirds of the way through that period the network leakage is now higher than it was in the first instance, at 207 million litres. Irish Water says that the answer is to spend €1.3 billion pumping water 200 km across the country to Dublin. We might have to do that in the future but, meanwhile, it has set itself a mains replacement target of just 1% per annum. That means some pipes will not be touched for another 100 years.
Irish Water claims that reducing leakage will not be enough to safeguard Dublin's water supply. However, Emma Kennedy's analysis shows that to be wrong. If Irish Water did nothing more than meet its leakage targets there would be a large surplus of water in Dublin from 2021 to 2050. When there is leakage of such huge volumes of expensive treated water, recovering even a small fraction is equivalent to an enormous new water source. Leakage is treated as part of demand so if leakage is reduced, demand is reduced. Irish Water says Dublin has only 2% spare capacity. This figure is wrong. Dublin's spare capacity is at least at 9% based on the latest full year data. Irish Water has suddenly started to present spare capacity in a way that is neither the international norm nor the method used in its earlier reports, according to Emma Kennedy.
There are other points I wished to make but my main point is that householders conserve and are conscious of their water. They have shown that historically. They should continue to do that, and I will continue to think before I use. That is the way we should approach it. However, the Minister should not point the finger at householders or allow that conversation to begin. The householders are doing their business and it is up to the Government and Irish Water to do their business and put the funding place.
I join other Members in asking the public to conserve water in every way possible. Over the years there has been underinvestment; there is no point in saying otherwise. I have heard people talking about how the climate has changed. In 1976, we had about a month of fine weather. It has not rained now for 19 days and we are short of water in a country that has plenty of water. The reason is that we do not have enough reservoir space. Similarly, if one does not have enough fodder for a longer winter one will not survive. This is our problem. It requires infrastructure but providing infrastructure, even with the best will in the world, takes three to five years.
I listened to the talk about bringing water to Dublin. People are forecasting everything. I was involved with installing a pipe to a multinational in Dublin. It was 1 m in size and takes 9 million gallons per day. Who can forecast how the different companies will grow? People who say there will be enough water if the leaks are fixed do not know the investment that might take place in the country. Second, if one were to fix all the pipes in Dublin, and I have done this work, it would cause chaos. Everybody would be jumping up and down saying that Dublin is at a standstill and businesses are losing billions. It has to be done in a phased transitional way. One cannot block every street or put diggers on every street. It will take time. That is the opinion of somebody who has worked on this. I believe in meters, regardless of whether there is charging. That is how one can know whether there are many leaks.
The Minister should be collaborating with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Most cattle in the country are drinking chlorinated water these days.
Previously, they would go around the side of a drain and drink from it, or there was a pump. We need initiatives such as sub-pumps, which would involve bringing a pipe out from the corner of a river, dropping pea shingles into it and then sending down a sub-pump to pump up the water. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should be working on initiatives like this under TAMS. In fairness, it does operate a rain water harvesting scheme for slatted sheds. What I am suggesting could be done. It would not solve the problem for everyone but it would probably solve the problem for the 50% to 60% of farms close to rivers or streams.
People talk about bringing water to Dublin. This is not just about Dublin. There are 66 plants in Leinster that are under pressure for water at the best of times. We need to put in place a mega water storage facility. That would resolve the issue. One can have all the plants in the world one wants but without water storage facilities one is in trouble. I recall that it was once proposed to put in a liner on a bog in Laois. We need to do something similar to ensure we have back up for ten or 15 days. We would also need to put a paddle into it to keep it fresh. That is how to solve the problem.
The group water schemes are doing their part in terms of conserving water. They have decreased the number of leakages on their systems but the Minister needs to keep on them to make sure they are okay.
Deputy O'Sullivan spoke about bringing water to Dublin from the Shannon. In doing that, we will need to put in place a spur that can hit north, south, east and west, so that we can tap into it whenever there is a crisis. The west will be serviced from Lough Corrib, Lough Conn and Lough Mask. They will be interconnected and that is a good idea. Group water schemes are working on putting in place a back-up well in case they run low.
In a period of dry weather, we hear about climate change and so on. We have had no rain for approximately 20 days and so it is not the end of the world. Water levels in springs, lakes and rivers will drop during periods of dry weather. Rain falls from the sky and then it goes down through the rocks and then it busts up. That is the way it operates in most places. Most of the year we are sound for water but we do not have sufficient storage capacity. Whether or not we like it, storage costs money. There has been no investment in this area for many years. We now need to solve the problem and to invest for the next five, ten or 15 years in the construction of massive water storage facilities, which we will then have to chlorinate and keep fresh and all of this costs money. People will have to ensure there is investment in our water infrastructure in the coming years.
This debate is welcome because we are facing a potential crisis. If the current high pressure system, the easterly weather system and the absence of our traditional gulf stream continues we face two crises, the first of which is in the area of agriculture. What is happening on the ground in agriculture is probably the immediate crisis. There is no grass growth in the vast majority of the country. Farmers are coming out of an incredibly harsh winter and facing into a perilous autumn when they may not have the necessary fodder stored to keep cattle through the winter. Cereal farmers, spring barley growers and others have had a very tough few years. This is a shocking crisis for those people, one that will affect their everyday lives.
The second crisis is the possibility of our not being able to maintain conventional water supplies. I understand that we have sufficient water for the coming weeks but if this current weather pattern continues we may face a very serious situation in the autumn in terms of water supply. There are already people in north Dublin whose water has been cut off owing to reduced water levels and thus low pressure such that water cannot be pumped to their houses. It is hoped this development will not occur on a widespread basis.
I note the Minister's figures with interest, including that nine of the treatment plants are in critical drought conditions and 50 are in severe drought conditions. I presume that if this weather continues for another two or three weeks that drought will spread to the entire system. As the Minister said, our rivers are at an historic low. I saw a photograph of the Shannon yesterday. It appears to be running at such incredibly low levels there is no water running the ESB system.
We have a crisis. It is unfortunate that this is the last sitting day of this session and we will not be able to meet to do anything further about it. The Minister has our support to do what is necessary for conservation. I was encouraged when the hosepipe ban was implemented. I understand that prior to the hosepipe ban we were operating at 650 mega litres a day in Dublin and that we are now operating at 570 mega litres. Temperatures have also dropped which would indicate that the higher figure was due somewhat to the very high temperatures but some of it as due to public response. We need to work together to manage this crisis and then look to the future and in terms of how we are going to cope with the climate change world.
Alerting people and planning for a continuing problem is the right thing to do. The conservation message is hitting home and it needs to be reinforced. It is important that we do that. There are particular sectors that we will have to be careful about in terms of water supply. The availability of drinking water is the priority, followed by supply for hospitals, industry and farmers.
We have experienced summers when the opposite has been the case, including a huge downpour that caused dreadful flooding. Increased rather than decreased rainfall is more typical of our summers. This fine weather is welcome but it has shown that we need to plan for climate change in the longer term.
During the winter we had the fodder shortage crisis and there is now also a summer fodder shortage crisis. We are also experiencing huge expansion in the national herd, for which there are opportunities in China but all of these crises should be sending us a message as well. I am sure the farming sector is paying some attention to that crisis.
I echo that conservation is the priority. I urge people to conserve water because in overusing they might be denying their neighbour a supply.
I thank all Deputies who spoke on this issue for echoing the call for conservation because it is important to make that call. I do not propose to speak with my political hat on. Although one or two Deputies did raise political issues, I am coming at this very much from the point of view of my responsibility for co-ordinating crises and emergency events of the type we have experienced from time to time. In the past 12 months, we have had two national red weather events and we are now into an event that is unprecedented because demand on our water system has changed considerably in the past 40 years since we last experienced a comparable weather event in terms of a prolonged drought. The crisis is not over. In fact, it is far from being over. Although rain is expected to fall in some parts of the country over the weekend there will be nowhere near enough rainfall to replenish our ground water, our rivers, our reservoirs and our lakes. We need at least three weeks of heavy rainfall to reverse the downward trajectory in our out stocks.
The core of the problem is the weather. There is a core supply problem in terms of our raw water supplies before it is treated or passed into the system. Deputy Paul Murphy likes to believe in conspiracy theories around privatisation. The Government does not control the weather. We cannot foresee what is going to happen in August but we can foresee what will happen in the next ten to 15 days and in this regard we foresee no alleviation in terms of significant rainfall. We have to be resilient and continue with water conservation. As I said, water levels are at an all time low, having fallen from a significant high in terms of the snowfall during Storm Emma. Funding is in place and investment is happening in the longer term. Leakage is being addressed. Additional crews are being brought in to work on pipes in different parts of the country. Good work is being done with Irish Water and the local authorities to get those crews in to fix leakages.
In terms of overall leakage and the failures that we have in our system, it took decades for that to be corrected in other jurisdictions like London, and it still has a 20% leakage problem.
I return to the initial fact: this is about raw water supplies continuing to run to low levels we have not seen previously in some parts of the country. The possibility of night-time restrictions is now very much in the fore. That would be due to a reduction in pressure. A decision on that in respect of the greater Dublin area will be made very shortly. As we look to the autumn and to the point Deputy Eamon Ryan was making, we believe we will be able to manage the supply and demand equilibrium between now and the end of August but if we do not see significant rainfall in that period we run the risk of having daytime restrictions in our water services in September and into October. Other emergency measures are being considered at the moment. I will keep them under review over the course of next week based on conversations I had at the national emergency co-ordination centre yesterday.
I thank people for their efforts and their resilience to date. As another Deputy said, they need to do the business and they are very much doing the business. When the hosepipe ban came into place in the greater Dublin area, demand fell by at least 40 Ml to 50 Ml over that period. We are still monitoring the effect of the national hosepipe ban, which is a bit more difficult to monitor. We will have figures on that very shortly, which will allow us to see if those conservation efforts are being replicated across the country - I am sure they are.
As things get worse - they will get worse - I ask Members to refrain from blaming Irish Water for the legacy problems the country has. It is managing the situation better than anyone else could to date, as I have seen in its control centre. We now have information, technology and oversight that we would never had if 31 or 34 local authorities were trying to manage that between themselves. Irish Water did not break the pipes or underinvest over the decades. It inherited the system and it is fixing it. Its workers are working overtime, day and night. They did so through storms Ophelia and Emma, and they are doing it again through this emergency.
I am proud of everyone's effort to date, but I wish to single out the Defence Forces and in particular the Air Corps. Over 100 different water drops have been conducted in different parts of the country in counties Laois and Wicklow. When the call came from our neighbours in Northern Ireland, it was able to come to their assistance as well. I am proud that it has been able to give that assistance. In the statement I provided to Members, I did not get to make reference to the environmental and serious ecological concerns we have with rivers running so low for our fish in terms of a lack of oxygen but also when we come into the spawning season. Conversely if we see heavy rain in August, it will run a huge amount of sediment and debris that has been building up over the land in recent weeks including those burnt parts of land, which also will have an environmental impact on our inland fisheries. As well as our firefighting, water safety and the water conservation efforts, we are concerned about the environmental impact we are already seeing in some parts of the country and conversely we could see even when rainfall comes.
I thank Members for making the time available for this debate. I ask them to use their social media networks to reinforce the conservation message and to remind people that even though they may see some rain in coming weeks, it will not be enough to replenish supplies in the coming months.