The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annual Drinking Water Report for Public Water Supplies clearly shows that communities across the country are continuing to benefit from Irish Water’s on-going strategy, investment and work programmes in protecting our drinking water. A key part of this work is Irish Water’s enhanced and systematic testing regime. This identifies risks to the drinking water supply quickly and expertly, ensuring that the EPA, HSE and the public are informed where water is considered unsafe to drink.

As a national utility Irish Water has one overall strategic plan and a budget of €2 billion between 2014 and 2021 to improve and secure drinking water quality and supply. Irish Water’s work in 2016 has increased the number of customers benefiting from a safe, secure water supply with investment and innovation. It has also ensured that standards were improved and supplies were secured for other, with further planned improvements.

The EPA confirms that in 2016, Irish Water delivered six new and 22 upgraded water treatment plants ensuring a safe secure supply of drinking water to the benefiting communities. In addition to this, Irish Water has progressed over 100 drinking water projects and programmes through concept, design and/or construction phases which are continuing into 2017 and beyond.

To increase the quality of the treated water at those plants, in 2016, Irish Water prepared and began to implement a National Disinfection Strategy to address defects in the disinfection of the public water supplies. So far, as outlined by the EPA, 363 water treatment plants have been surveyed and works have started at 83 of them. This work will continue over the next two years to ensure that we have the highest standards of protection from bacterial contamination (such as e Coli).

Of the drinking water supplies that are currently on the EPA’s Remedial Action List (RAL) in 2015 and 2016, the EPA notes that Irish Water have completed work on 66 of them. This has ensured that those communities now have safe, clean drinking water. By the end of 2016, 99 public water schemes remained on the RAL as compared with 140 when Irish Water took over responsibility for water services in 2014.

Of the 25 water supplies that are at risk of cryptosporidium, 16 were already on the RAL before the setting up of Irish Water (comprising of 80% of the current population figure). The additional nine supplies were identified by Irish Water through a mix of enhanced monitoring and the application of consistent assessment methodology. Works are projected to be complete on eight of the 25 supplies by the end of this month and a further 9 supplies by the end of this year benefiting over 100,000 consumers.

When Irish Water took over responsibility for water services in 2014, there were 16,000 people on Boil Water Notices. Because of the work done by Irish Water, this figure had reduced to a total of 10 Boil Water Notices affecting a population of 5,654 people by the end of 2016. 92% of these are on the Ballinlough Loughglynn supply which we anticipate will be lifted by the end of 2017.

Due to Irish Water’s risk assessment, sampling and monitoring, we discovered a large number of schemes, not already on the EPA list, that had to be dealt with for cryptosporidium, for example Whitegate and Millstreet in Cork. The EPA report correctly identifies a number of other schemes where work is on-going to fully safeguard the supplies including in Central Kerry, Portlaoise, Letterkenny and Sligo. Progress has been delayed on the Lough Talt scheme in Sligo due to the failure to achieve planning permission for the water treatment plant without first undergoing a process to address the habitats concerns arising from conservation status of Lough Talt. Irish Water is following this process with a view to being able to resubmit for planning as soon as possible.

In 2016 Irish Water published its Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Plan for consultation in response to the Government’s National Strategy to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water. The plan includes replacing lead services on the public sides; increased customer communication and advice; and orthophosphate treatment of treated water to reduce the ability of the water to dissolve lead from lead pipes. In 2016, Irish Water replaced 2,145 backyard lead shared services pipes and 920 individual lead service connections. We have commenced orthophosphate treatment initially in Limerick with plans to significantly extend this in 2018, subject to satisfying agreed processes for environmental assessment and mitigation.

The EPA has recommended the development of a national pesticides strategy to protect water sources. Irish Water recognises this as an emerging risk as we extend our monitoring and testing programmes. It is widely recognised that the most effective means of addressing this issue is the education and awareness of landowners and/or pesticide users within the catchment area of the drinking water abstraction point. This approach requires collaboration from statutory agencies, national and local government and others, all of whom are working with us to develop a strategy to manage this risk.

Commenting on the EPA report, the Managing Director of Irish Water, Jerry Grant said,

One of our key goals is that the same standard of service to consumers for water and wastewater will apply no matter where you live in the country. Achieving this objective will take time having regard to the varying condition of our water treatment plants and the level of work that is required. Given the historic legacy issues, our approach continues to be systematic improvement through an integrated programme of measures that combines sustainable long term solutions, with interim upgrades to meet immediate needs. We are lucky enough to have many sources of raw water in Ireland. However, ensuring that the water everyone gets from their tap is safe and secure requires that appropriate treatment processes are both in place and subject to high quality operation and maintenance.”

Irish Water’s strategic planning, investment prioritisation and implementation is clearly having a positive impact on public water supplies to communities around the country. As we continue our work, it is important that everyone can have confidence in their drinking water. Irish Water maintains close cooperation with the EPA and the HSE to address all emerging risks to supplies identified through regular sampling, analysis and plant audits in order to maintain the highest standards for this vital service. In that regard we welcome and fully support the work of the EPA as an independent regulator in its reviews of our work and the outcomes being achieved.”

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