Report shows size and scale of challenge faced by Irish Water

The EPA Urban Wastewater report published today clearly shows the size and scale of the challenge faced by Irish Water in meeting the demands of decades of underinvestment in wastewater infrastructure. This is a key element of the infrastructure challenge that Irish Water, in 2015, estimated would cost €13billion and require largescale investment over several investment cycles. The EPA report identifies major progress by Irish Water in the period since 2014, as 65 new or upgraded plants have been delivered. In this period, in addition, our asset upgrade programmes delivered or are in the process of delivering over 2,700 individual projects. Currently we have over 1,400 active projects between large infrastructure and capital projects at a value of €2.2billion.

When Irish Water took over responsibility for water and wastewater in 2014, the national utility prioritised the health of our customers by focusing on improving drinking water, where boil water notices affected over 20,000 people, with many more at risk. This has taken substantial investment and work at every stage of a very complex treatment, monitoring and testing process. We also had to prioritise the resilience of our water network and address leakage and high burst frequency to ensure that customers had a reliable supply.

Between 2014 and 2015, Irish Water increased the investment in wastewater to €166m, an increase of 22% on the average expenditure between 2011-2013. From 2016 – 2021, the remaining period of the Irish Water Business Plan, the utility is ramping up investment to spend an average of €326m per year on wastewater infrastructure. This is only possible by bringing a large number of projects through a complex planning process, while optimising value for money. In the earlier years, large projects were each planned and delivered as single projects. We now have a number of programmes in place which are covering multiple projects at a time. For the untreated agglomerations, we are combining 20 sites in a single programme with efficiency benefits through standardisation and tender scale.

In 2014 we took over a portfolio of projects from the local authorities that were all at different stages of development. In many cases the projects needed to be re-scoped, or the necessary planning and environmental statutory processes were not yet in place and in some cases sites had not yet been required. 

Irish Water recognised from the beginning that improved operations would deliver greater compliance from existing assets. This is being addressed through a number of programmes, including process audit and training, process upgrades through capital improvements, new standard operating procedures, tackling high industrial loads of wastewater at source where relevant, backed up by much more robust monitoring and testing regime. These programmes will continue to be expanded and are already making a positive impact.

The EPA report correctly identified a deficit in information on collection systems and the fact that Irish Water has commenced a major programme of network surveys and modelling of performance. This will cover the networks in 42 major towns and cities across Ireland. This is extremely resource intensive in order to quantify sewer capacity, overflows causing pollution and infiltration of storm water. The report identifies compliance issues due to collection systems in Cork, Thurles and Roscrea among 13 agglomerations listed by the EPA. As the national picture is clarified by further surveys, Irish Water expects that this will define major further investment requirements into the future.

Speaking about the report, Irish Water’s Head of Asset Management Seán Laffey said “As with drinking water, Irish Water as a single utility can for the first time have an over-arching strategy on wastewater. This planned approach will in time deliver sustained benefits in terms of improved compliance in wastewater treatment. The EPA report correctly reflects the size and scale of the challenge facing Irish Water as we work to meet the needs of homes and businesses around the country and facilitate future growth.

The lead in time for building or upgrading a wastewater treatment plant can be up to three years to ensure that all planning, regulatory, environmental and statutory obligations are met. Site selection, public consultation and site purchase are also vital parts of the process. A substantial amount of this preparatory work is underway and people will see the outcome of this work over the coming years as construction begins on more and more sites.”

Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Leitrim, Limerick, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow

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