Irish Water, Ireland’s national water utility responsible for providing and developing water and wastewater services in Ireland, today reiterated its commitment to remove a further 29 water supplies from the EPA’s Remedial Action List (RAL) by the end of 2016, through its national risk based management approach to drinking water supplies.  The national utility will invest €2 billion in improving drinking water to 2021 including €327 million in addressing THMs. The EPA today published the RAL for quarter one 2016 which shows a total of 119 drinking water supplies remain at risk, affecting a total population of over 800,000 people.

57 ‘at-risk’ water supply schemes have been removed from the RAL as a direct result of a prioritised programme of investment in water infrastructure by Irish Water since January 2014. The EPA RAL was initially developed in 2008 and identified drinking water schemes at risk of not complying with Drinking Water Regulation Standards, based on failures of standards in supply or known deficiencies in plants. The RAL originally focussed on microbiological risk (E.coli) and helped drive a programme of disinfection, mainly using Chlorine, across the country. More recently the RAL has been broadened to address other risks requiring more significant intervention including:

  • Trihalomethanes: chemicals formed by the reaction of naturally occurring dissolved organic material and chlorine which is used for disinfection in order to protect against pathogenic bacteria.
  • Cryptosporidium: a potential source of severe gastroenteritis contaminated by run-off from land into drinking water sources

The quarter one 2016 RAL records 45 schemes at risk as a result of elevated THMs and 34 schemes at risk due to inadequate treatment for Cryptosporidium. 5 additional schemes have been added to the latest RAL all as a result of inadequate barriers or treatment against cryptosporidium.

Commenting on the latest RAL, Mark Macaulay, Water Supply Strategy Lead at Irish Water said, ‘By adopting a single national best practice approach to assessing and managing drinking water supplies, Irish Water has shown beyond any doubt that drinking water quality across the country has been seriously compromised by a systematic failure in how water services have been planned, delivered and funded over several decades.  Our work is based on the recommended World Health Organisation (WHO) approach to safe drinking water supply using a ‘source to tap’ risk based methodology which analyses risk rather than waiting for sampling failures.  Irish Water’s work in the past two years has indicated serious compliance challenges ahead for hundreds of drinking water supplies as a result of the first ever comprehensive evaluation of the performance of Ireland’s drinking water production plants. 

Irish Water has put in place the first national THM plan and a prioritised programme of investment to address all inadequacies in drinking water parameters including THMs. By 2021 we plan to reduce the number of schemes on the EPA Remedial Action List to zero.’

Irish Water will invest €327 million to upgrade water supplies at risk from THMs.  In the meantime the EPA and the HSE have clearly advised that the real risk of inadequate chlorination outweighs the risk associated with THMs. A balance must be struck between an uncertain, small and long-term risk associated with elevated THMs and the significant, large, immediate and serious health risks associated with inadequate chlorination such as EColi outbreaks.’

Irish Water has adopted a national Asset Management approach to drinking water safety which recognises the complex nature of the service and the need for an integrated programme involving investment, planned maintenance, standard operation with appropriate automation and monitoring as necessary to upgrade water supplies in Ireland to international standards. While ultimately requiring investment of over €2Billion in drinking water production and distribution by 2021, significant improvement is being achieved year on year by this approach.

In the next 5 years, while the bulk of the urgent work will be done, Irish Water will have transitioned to development and implementation of Water Safety Plans (across a reduced number of plants supplying our customers). These plans will drive all investment and management decision making to ensure high quality water from ‘source to tap’ and will ultimately make the RAL approach redundant. In the meantime, we recognise the value of the RAL in maintaining a focus on drinking water safety and prioritised improvement.

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