Tuesday, 15 May 2012
I wish to raise an issue in respect of the water supply scheme for Glantane, Lombardstown and Lahern. There have been many problems with the scheme for a long number of years and over the past 12 months in particular. Since January of this year, a number of sections of the scheme have been closed down and a large number of houses have been left without water for up to a week at a time. Cork County Council has been obliged to supply a water tanker to the village in Glantane and a number of new housing estates in the area lack a regular water supply. As for the current scheme, 5.2 km of pipes must be replaced and I understand it comprises an old type of asbestos pipe that is no longer suitable and should be replaced. I further understand the county council has applied to the Department for the necessary funding. It has deemed this to be an emergency situation in which the area has the worst water supply problems in the county. As quite a number of new houses were built there, a considerable number of young families live in the immediate area. While they are reliant on the water supply scheme, unfortunately they find themselves without water on many mornings. Therefore, to ensure a water supply in the morning, they are obliged to keep water in tanks in their own houses. I ask the Minister to give priority to this matter. The county council has inspected the system and has agreed it must be replaced. I am given to understand by Cork County Council that it wishes to give priority to the scheme but needs funding, the only source of which is the Department.
I thank Senator Colm Burke for raising this issue of water conservation, which is a priority area under the Department's water services investment programme. The main objectives of the water conservation programme are to reduce water loss in the public supply networks, to obtain value for money by deferring capital expenditure on new water supply schemes through improved supply and reduced consumption, and to ensure environmental protection by deferring the need to develop new water sources.
There are three distinct stages to water conservation on public water supply schemes. The first stage involves a local authority putting in place a water management system to enable the authority to monitor water use and loss throughout the supply networks. Under the second stage of the programme, the authority establishes an active leakage control programme, which involves locating and fixing leaks and based on the results of these two stages, the authority must establish a prioritised pipe rehabilitation strategy for its area. The final stage comprises the rehabilitation and replacement of defective supply networks where repair has proven to be uneconomic due to the age or condition of the pipes.
Over the past decade funding has been provided to local authorities to carry out water conservation works, mainly for the first two elements I have outlined. It has lead to some reductions in unaccounted for water, improved knowledge of the condition of water distribution networks and consumption patterns, and an improvement in the level and quality of supply to consumers. Exchequer spending on water conservation over the past ten years amounted to €168 million. This investment provides the platform for intensive investment in mains rehabilitation, which is a key priority under the Water Services Investment Programme 2010-13. This programme was based on needs assessments carried out by local authorities, which prioritised key contracts and schemes in this area, with a requirement to give top priority to water conservation works as an alternative to new infrastructure provision. A greater proportion of the funds available annually under the programme is being assigned specifically to water conservation works.
In the case of County Cork specifically, the council has not yet completed the preliminary phases of water conservation, including the strategy for rehabilitation for water mains on a countywide basis. However, the council has recently submitted an advanced stage rehabilitation works proposal to the Department for water conservation works in 141 separate locations throughout the county. This includes proposals to rehabilitate almost 4 km of water main in the Glantane, Lombardstown and Lahern areas.
As a general rule and in the interests of securing best value for money from Exchequer investment, the Department does not authorise a local authority to undertake mains rehabilitation works unless the authority has largely implemented the water management and leakage control works necessary throughout its functional area and has completed its strategy for mains rehabilitation on a prioritised county-wide basis. In some good news however, given the priority attached to water conservation and the level of unaccounted for water in County Cork, the Department has undertaken to assess the advanced stage rehabilitation works proposals, including consideration of whether funding can be provided at this stage for the proposals it contains for water main rehabilitation works in the Glantane, Lombardstown and Lahern areas.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. The problem for residents in the area is this has become such a priority on foot of 20 breaks since 1 January and there does not appear to be a solution. The county council has put in place pressure valves to try to resolve the problem to an extent by stopping the breakage that is taking place. However, this appears to be a temporary solution only, as the entire pipe network appears to be collapsing. Consequently, I ask the Department to give priority to this area if at all possible, given the council has even costed the work. I appreciate the Minister of State's comprehensive answer on the matter.