Dáil Éireann - Volume 555 - 10 October, 2002
Written Answers. - Water Quality.
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
303. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government when action will be taken by his Department to deal with the problems identified in the Environmental Protection Agency drinking water quality report, particularly in relation to Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17695/02]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Cullen)
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Cullen): Statutory responsibility for the provision of drinking water supplies and for upholding the prescribed quality standards rests with sanitary authorities. Stringent drinking water standards are prescribed in the European Communities (Quality of Water Intended for Human Consumption) Regulations, 1988. The duty placed on sanitary authorities to take the necessary measures to ensure that drinking water meets these standards is performed under the general supervision of the EPA. The most recent EPA report on Drinking Water Quality in Ireland 1998-2000 is available in the Oireachtas Library. The report is based on the results of 141,955 individual tests on 22,801 samples of drinking water taken from 2,559 supplies.
The report concludes that the overall quality of drinking water from public supplies nationally continues to be satisfactory. The EPA places a strong emphasis on the need to tackle deficiencies in a small number of public supplies which have been identified as frequently breaching water quality standards and exhorts local authorities to adopt corrective action programmes in relation to the relevant water treatment plants. In 2001, the EPA undertook 11 random audits on sanitary authorities, including Cork County Council, focusing in particular on the management of reported non-compliance with the drinking water standards. An analysis of the overall findings of these audits is included in the EPA Report. The EPA has undertaken to mention in future reports the extent to which deficiencies identified by their audits have been addressed. This is a welcome measure, which should serve to promote improved performance by sanitary authorities.
It is a matter of serious concern that any supply of drinking water is deficient in quality and, accordingly, the National Development Plan 2000-2006 provides for large-scale investment in water services, including a particular focus on the provision of additional water treatment and distribution capacity, the maintenance of water quality standards, water conservation and leakage reduction, and network rehabilitation.
 The EPA report acknowledges the water quality deficiencies affecting group water schemes, in particular on privately sourced schemes that supply some 5% of households nationally and highlights the Government's continuing commitment to achieve improved performance in the group sector. The major drive to tackle quality deficiencies in this sector is being maintained and expanded, with a focus on all areas of relevance – sources, distribution, analytical programmes and services, full definition of quality problems, management aspects, treatment options and costings. This is being underpinned by a commitment of €644 million, current prices, under the National Development Plan 2000-2006 for the rural water programme and a radically improved grants scheme.
Other measures being pursued in partnership with the National Federation of Group Water Schemes – NFGWS – include the establishment of national rural water monitoring committee, the provision by my Department of financial support to the NFGWS, and the introduction on a pilot basis of a quality assurance scheme for the group sector by the NFGWS with the backing of my Department. A new comprehensive group water scheme monitoring programme, beginning later this month, will sample and analyse drinking water in the estimated 1500 group schemes falling within the remit of the European Communities (Drinking Water) Regulations, 2000, which come into operation on 1 January 2004.
On foot of the EPA report my Department issued a circular letter in April of this year to all sanitary authorities endorsing all recommendations made by the EPA and urging their earliest implementation. The recommendations include, inter alia, the adoption of a management systems approach for the management and operation of large drinking water treatment plants and certification similar to the hazard analysis critical control points – HACCP – system to be pursued for small plants.
With respect to drinking water supplies in Cork, including Cork city, the EPA report notes that overall the quality of public water supplies is satisfactory. The report also highlights problems in certain public and group schemes. Details of major schemes approved for the provision or improvement of public water supplies in Cork are set out in my Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2002-2004, published in April 2002, a copy of which is in the Oireachtas Library. In addition, a block grant allocation of €2.525 million has been made to Cork County Council for the current year under the devolved rural water programme in respect of small public and group water schemes.
Dáil Éireann 555 Written Answers. Water Quality.