Water supplies serving over one million people need significant improvement, report finds

In the report, the EPA identified a number of “at-risk” drinking water supplies where significant issues need to be addressed by Irish Water.
Water supplies serving over one million people need significant improvement, report finds

A report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that Irish Water’s failure to improve treatment plants has left many water supplies vulnerable and poses a risk to the “health of a large portion of the population”.

According to the EPA, the overall quality of drinking water supplies was high in 2020, with 99.7 per cent of samples compliant with bacterial and chemical limits.

However, the report found that 46 water supplies which serve over one million people need significant improvement. Furthermore, it was found that there had been delays in completing works on more than half of the supplies.

The agency's report noted that more than 15,500 people were on boil-water notices for longer than one month in 2020, meaning it would “take decades for Irish Water to remove all lead connections at their current rate of replacement”.

The EPA said that a high level of water quality was being achieved in most cases which was “positive for consumers”, however, improvements are needed to protect public health.

“It is good news that our water is safe to drink today, but we cannot say with confidence it is resilient into the future,” said EPA director Dr Tom Ryan.

“The EPA remains concerned about the vulnerability of many drinking water supplies nationally. Irish Water needs to fix the remaining supplies on the EPA’s remedial action list without further delay.”

'At-risk' supplies

In the report, the EPA identified a number of “at-risk” drinking water supplies where significant issues need to be addressed by Irish Water.

A supply can be placed on the list if drinking water free from bacteria, protozoan organisms or chemical substances can not be consistently ensured. The number of “at-risk” supplies has fallen from 71 in 2017 to 46 in 2020.

Current supplies which need immediate improvement include supplies serving more than 90,000 people in Cork city; 17,000 people in Longford central, and 1,300 people in Corofin, Co Clare.

A major issue with the “at-risk” supplies is the length of time it will take to complete improvement works. It is anticipated that it will take longer to carry out improvement works on nearly half of all supplies in need.

One case highlighted by the EPA is that of the Clonmel-Poulavanogue supply in Co Tipperary. Irish Water had said that work on this supply was due to be completed by December 2020, but it now has a completion date of December 2026.

'World-class'

According to Irish Water, the 2020 report indicates “a world-class level of compliance with the drinking water regulations”.

“Given the size and scale of investment needed to upgrade water treatment plants and the wider water network, Irish Water is very pleased to achieve such a high compliance rate for the Irish public,” said Katherine Walshe, its head of environmental regulation.

Ms Walshe noted that the utility made major investments in new and upgraded plants as well as delivering improvement programmes at its plants to enhance the quality and consistency of supply.

“We are advancing drinking water safety plans for all of our larger supplies, with a key emphasis on minimising risks from source to tap. We have engaged extensively and comprehensively with the EPA on this and will prioritise funding towards those schemes at highest risk,” she said.

However, she did acknowledge that more needs to be done to secure water supplies into the future.

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