Over 5 million litres of water saved daily after works in Athlone

26 May 2021

Nightly water restrictions are now largely a thing of the past for many homes and business in Athlone, following a strategic and targeted approach by Irish Water to drive down leakage and provide a more secure and reliable water supply for the town.

Over 5 million litres of water, the equivalent of two Olympic sized swimming pools, is now being saved every day across Athlone as a result of these works.

Athlone is a thriving business and shopping location and the second most populated town in the Midlands. In 2018, Irish Water recognised that Athlone had a high level of leakage with both homeowners and businesses experiencing regular and persistent water outages. Vital upgrades to the water infrastructure were needed as well as a targeted and intensive campaign to reduce leakage and improve the water supply.

Irish Water in partnership with Westmeath County Council undertook an extensive review of the water network in Athlone and developed a strategic plan to reduce leakage and provide a more reliable supply. A number of significant challenges were identified including the town’s old and fragile water mains, which were prone to frequent bursts, as well as much needed improvements to the network and construction of some critical infrastructure. Close collaboration with Westmeath County Council and our regional contractors, GMC Utilities, was crucial in order to overcome these challenges and a local knowledge of the historical network would also prove vital.

Speaking about the success of the programme and challenges they faced, Matt Thomson, Leakage Reduction Programme Regional Lead with Irish Water said “The size and scale of the network issues in Athlone were immense and well documented and caused regular water outages and necessary restrictions. Reducing leakage is not only about replacing old pipes or fixing bursts, it involves detailed planning, collaboration and a number of different work streams which will make the most impact on leakage levels in a given area. Visible bursts on the pipes are easy to find and fix, but hidden, underground leaks are a bigger challenge. This is why we focused a lot of effort on improving the systems to measure the flow of water, to better understand where the worst underground leaks were and then direct our crews to those areas.

"As a result of these works and through the close partnership between Irish Water, Westmeath County Council and GMC Utilities, over 5 million litres of water has been saved daily across Athlone, and no planned restrictions have been necessary since 2019. This is a fantastic achievement and I would like to thank the communities of Athlone for engaging with us, supporting our vision and helping us achieve these results.

The first critical element was the District Meter Area improvement programme which involved the installation or upgrade of more than 100 district meters across the town. These district meters gather information and data about water usage and flow which is essential to finding underground leaks and prioritising their repair. This enabled the Find and Fix crews to not only locate underground leaks but to also prioritise areas where leakage levels were highest. In addition, 143 households across Athlone had leaks on their property’s external supply pipe repaired free of charge through Irish Water’s First Fix Free scheme, resulting in over 260,000 litres of water being saved daily.

Another important part of the programme which was key to reducing leakage in the area was the replacement of over 750 backyard service connections. Backyard services are found in older premises, often installed to the rear of a property and typically made of iron or lead. Due to the age and the poor condition of the pipework, they were a significant source of leakage and supply disruption for customers. These complex works alone resulted in combined savings of over 1.6 million litres of water per day across Athlone. Irish Water would like to thank all those who facilitated and assisted in the provision of our back yard services programme which has not only reduced the number of bursts and outages, but has also considerably improved the water quality for entire communities. In addition, almost 23km of aged water mains were replaced and over 200 leaks repaired through Irish Water’s Find and Fix scheme, resulting in a further 3 million litres of water saved per day, again significantly improving water quality and supply.

Irish Water acknowledges the co-operation and patience of local residents and businesses while we worked to complete these works and would also like to thank local representatives and the media for their support and helping us to share these updates.

Alan Kelly, Senior Executive Engineer with Westmeath County Council, added “As a result of the collaboration between Irish Water and Westmeath County Council, customers in Athlone are enjoying a more secure and reliable water supply. The works undertaken will benefit customers in the area by strengthening and reinforcing the water network, reducing leaks and unplanned outages when bursts occur and improving water quality. The installation of new pipes and replacement of old ones will safeguard the water supply in Athlone and we would like to join in thanking the community for their patience during these works.

CEO of Athlone Chamber, Gerry McInerney, welcomed the news saying, “Athlone Chamber are delighted with the progress being made by Irish Water with respect to this very important issue. For years there was a deteriorating situation with increased demand and lack of investment with respect to repairs and capital expenditure. It is clear that Athlone’s economic growth will be underpinned by the work already undertaken, and that is currently underway as well as the capital expenditure planned for the town. Our Multinationals as well as our hospitality sector to include hotels and coffee shops are completely reliant on a reliable, secure water supply.  The investment by Irish water provides a significant peace of mind in this regard.

Securing the water supply in Athlone in the long term remains a vital focus and Irish Water is continuing with efforts to further drive down leakage and, with the upgrade of the Athlone Water Treatment Plant which will increase capacity at the plant, will meet the demands for Athlone well into the future.

Irish Water continues to work in partnership with local authorities across Ireland to reduce leaks every day. As part of Irish Water’s national Leakage Reduction Programme, €500 million is being invested up to the end of 2021 to reduce the level of leakage across the country by fixing and replacing old and damaged water mains. This will ensure a safe, reliable water supply which is vital for our health, our environment and our growing population and economy. For more information, please visit the National Leakage Reduction Programme section of our website. 

Irish Water continues to work with our Local Authority partners, contractors and others to safeguard the health and well-being of both staff and the public and to ensure the continuity of critical drinking water and wastewater services. Irish Water would like to remind people to follow the HSE COVID-19 advice and ensure frequent handwashing.