Dáil Éireann - Volume 463 - 27 March, 1996

Adjournment Debate. - Dublin Water Supply.

Mr. E. Byrne: It is interesting that our President is currently being escorted on her tour of South Africa by a very good friend of Ireland's, Professor Kadar Asmal, who holds the portfolio of Water Affairs in the South African Government. In establishing a separate Cabinet position to deal with issues relating to water supply, South Africa has given full recognition to the importance of water.

[1249] A clean and reliable water supply is not simply a matter of convenience. It is central to public health. That basic fact applies in Ireland as much as it does in South Africa. Our citizens do not have to rely on water of questionable quality obtained as in South Africa, from a standpipe in the street or, in the more rural parts, from a cattle watering hole. Most Irish homes have adequate indoor sanitation. I know the provision of bathrooms to local authority houses which do not currently have them is a priority of my colleague in Democratic Left, Deputy McManus.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands of Irish homes, including many in my constituency of Dublin South-Central, do not have an adequate and reliable water supply. The seeming inability of Dublin Corporation to maintain a constant water supply to large parts of Dublin constitutes a health hazard for many residents. There is an urgent need to implement the recommendation in the Greater Dublin Development Plan relating to water supply and to implement the recommendations of the water strategy study which was completed last year.

Large areas of the south city, including Terenure where I live, Drimnagh, Crumlin, Walkinstown, Harold's Cross, Kimmage, the South Circular Road area and The Tenters are regularly affected by a cut-off of water supply due to the practice known as “throttling”, which involves water pressure being turned so low as to be effectively non-existent. The lack of a reliable water supply constitutes a potential health hazard and is especially inconvenient for families with small children.

It is essential that the Minister for the Environment make the resources available to Dublin Corporation to enable the relevant sections of the Greater Dublin Development Plan and the water strategy study to be implemented so as to ensure a constant and reliable water supply. I hope he will take these concerns on board and act without further delay.

[1250] Water pressure is not the only problem facing many of my constituents. Residents in the older parts of the city share a water supply with one and often two neighbours. In some cases water supply is effectively diminished because of substandard, outdated lead piping and inadequate internal plumbing. Residents are often unable to meet the costs of rectifying these shortcomings and I therefore urge the Minister to establish a grants scheme designed to help them meet costs.

If there are schemes for rural electrification, surely schemes can be conceived to target parts of my constituency, particularly those with an old housing stock which is costly to upgrade. A grants scheme would allow people to take in a fresh water supply from the corporation main pipe to the stopcock and beyond. I encourage the Minister of State to urge the Minister for the Environment to introduce a grant aided scheme for many constituents of mine who are plagued by water shortages.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The local authorities and my Department have different roles in the provision of water supplies. Operation and maintenance of supplies and pressures is a matter for the local authority concerned. My Department's role is restricted to determining priorities, assessing and providing funding for new or improved water and sewerage facilities.

I am aware of the difficulties the Dublin area is experiencing with regard to water supply. Due to a progressive increase in water consumption in the region in recent years, the amount of treated water available for distribution into the network has not been enough at times to meet demand. This problem has tended to be more acute in the winter months or, as happened last summer, during prolonged dry periods.

At an operational level, treated water reserves can be conserved by restricting the amount of water passing into the [1251] distribution system, particularly during off-peak periods such as between midnight and 6 a.m. This strategy saves water by reducing the amounts of water lost through leakage in the distribution network and minimises the effect on consumers. On occasion it may take some time to restore the supply to all consumers depending on the severity of valve throttling and the level of consumer demand and other such factors which vary from day to day. Nevertheless every effort is made by the local authorities concerned to distribute water in as equitable a manner as possible during these periods.

The problems experienced from time to time are related largely to quantity. An important factor is the level of growth in the area's economy. A growing economy generates an increased demand for water. These water supply problems are being addressed on a number of fronts. My Department's water services investment programme has provided for a range of measures including source augmentation works, the provision of trunk delivery mains and the refurbishment of various distribution systems. Investment last year alone in water supply projects in Dublin amounted to £18.5 million. The 1996 investment programme also provides for the continued funding of a number of very significant projects in the Dublin area.

Works recently completed include a phase of the north Dublin city arterial water main at a cost of almost £3.5 million. In addition a refurbishment programme for Dublin Corporation's Vartry water treatment plant has been substantially completed. This project is intended to secure a good quality supply from this plant. The estimated cost of this scheme is £2.3 million.

A major expansion and refurbishment project is under way at the Leixlip water plant. This project will increase the plant's treatment capacity from 22 million gallons per day to 38 million gallons per day at an estimated cost of £17.5 million. The work already [1252] completed at the Leixlip plant has resulted in significant additional supplies being made available to the Dublin area. Contract documents for a further phase of this work have recently been approved. Major improvements to the Dún Laoghaire water system are also in progress at present at an estimated cost of £30 million.

My Department is also supporting the implementation of a programme of works to tackle leakage in Dublin. This work will involve the creation of metered zones and the provision of telemetry and computerisation to facilitate a co-ordinated approach to leak detection and repair. The project will be implemented over a number of years and is expected to significantly reduce the amount of water lost through leakages, thereby making more water available for consumption.

It is clear therefore that substantial investment has been made in Dublin's water infrastructure. Further investment will be guided by the findings of a major study of the region's water requirements. This study, which will be available shortly, will provide valuable guidance for the future management of Dublin's water resources and will provide a strategic framework for investment over the next ten years.

I assure the Deputy that the water supply needs of the Dublin region are being fully addressed. These issues will continue to receive my Department's active attention in the months ahead.