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Uisce Éireann taskforce prioritises response to water discolouration issues in Cork

09 February 2024

Utility reiterates its call to report incidences of discolouration so that expert team can pinpoint and address issues directly with customers as they arise.

Uisce Éireann has established a taskforce in Cork City, dedicated to improving water quality. Acknowledging that water services in Cork City are not meeting the standards that customers rightly expect, Uisce Éireann is assuring the public that it continues to treat the matter with the utmost urgency, including following up with proactive callbacks to customers who have raised concerns over discoloured water.

The organisation recognises that, although the ongoing issues are having a significant impact on affected communities, it provides high-quality, clean and safe drinking water to over 125,000 people in Cork City every day, and based on 2023 reports to our call centre, it is estimated that discolouration affects just over 1% of customers. Recognising that some people may not be reporting incidents, Uisce Éireann is reiterating its call for customers to contact them directly. Each call is investigated and actioned.

Uisce Éireann has invested more than €100 million in infrastructure improvements across a number of projects in recent years including the Lee Road Water Treatment Plant. These improvement works, including increased flood protection and a link to an additional back up supply from Iniscarra, have significantly modernised and improved the overall water supply infrastructure in the city, benefiting homes and businesses. 

In general, issues such as discolouration can occur when dealing with an aged network such as Cork City’s. There are approximately 600km of watermains in Cork City, which is enough pipeline to bring you from Douglas to the Giant’s Causeway in Co Antrim. 50% to 60% of these watermains are made from cast iron and approximately 100 years old, dating back to the 1920s. It would take an investment of approximately half a billion euro over several investment cycles to replace these. Due to the age and deteriorating condition of the pipes, they are prone to bursts and leakage. In old cast iron mains, sediment can become dislodged during repair or upgrade works and can occasionally be carried through to customers’ taps, leading to the water appearing brown or orange. 

Brian O’Leary, Uisce Éireann’s Regional Operations Manager for the South West, reassured the people of Cork City that the water is safe to drink once it is running clear.

Protecting public health is a top priority for Uisce Éireann. The treatment process used by Uisce Éireann at the Lee Road Water Treatment Plant is fully in line with water treatment standards used nationally and globally. Water services engineers and drinking water compliance specialists continue to closely monitor the water treatment plant, reservoirs and the water network that supply the city to ensure compliance with drinking water regulations."

We continue to advise not to drink discoloured water. In the event of discolouration, running the tap for several minutes - we recommend up to 20 minutes - will usually restore water to a clear colour. The water is safe to drink once running clear. If the issue remains unresolved, we encourage customers to contact us directly."

Uisce Éireann provides high-quality, clean, safe drinking water to over 125,000 people in Cork City every day. In 2023 we received just over 1600 calls to our customer care team regarding discolouration in Cork City. This represents just over 1% of customers. Recognising that some people may not be reporting incidents, we would encourage customers to contact us directly on the Uisce Éireann customer care helpline, open 24/7 on 1800 278 278. This allows issues to be logged and investigated in a timely manner and provides us with accurate and real time information. Each reported issue is actioned and gives us a better understanding of any ongoing issues and allows us to prioritise the worst impacted areas.”

The Uisce Éireann leakage reduction team have also been hard at work reducing the amount of water lost by 50%, amounting to a staggering 17 million litres, across the city every day. Uisce Éireann remains committed to ongoing large-scale investment and to the delivery of world class water services for the people of Cork City.

Remedial actions currently in place include:

Sampling

Testing and analysis of the water supply, in conjunction with extensive monitoring across the city’s water network to ensure the water is compliant with drinking water regulations and is safe to drink once it runs clear.

Flushing

Flushing involves isolating small sections of the network and clearing the watermains of any sediment from old cast iron pipes to reduce instances of discolouration.

Operational adjustments

We have carried out operational adjustments to pumping and water storage levels to reduce discolouration.

Process Optimisation

Uisce Éireann Process Specialists are continuing to review the operational performance of the New Lee Road Water Treatment plant, investigating additional options to further improve water services in Cork City.

Water mains replacement          

A water network is a delicate ecosystem in its own right, and replacing watermains is not a straightforward process. It requires liaising with multiple stakeholders, planning, permissions, road closures, road reinstatements etc. Areas that are worst impacted by leakage and discolouration are prioritised.

Uisce Éireann continues to engage extensively with customers and elected representatives, including attending Cork City Council’s Environment, Water & Amenity Strategic Policy Committee on 16th January 2024. Uisce Éireann also invited Oireachtas members from Cork City to a briefing on 24th November 2023. 

Uisce Éireann has also commenced proactive callbacks to customers who have raised concerns over discoloured water. In certain instances, some of these callbacks have been in-person house calls. The aim of the call is to provide information regarding ongoing actions and to gather additional information as to the customer’s experience. 

More information on ongoing work in Cork City, including information on how to log an issue is available on our website.