Water supply for 1.1m people 'vulnerable,' EPA warns

There were 52 supplies with significant issues to be addressed by Irish Water at the end of 2019.

More than 50 treatment plants supplying water to over 1.1m people are vulnerable to failure, which Irish Water must urgently address, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned.

In its water quality report for 2019, the EPA said although most Irish people currently had access to "high levels of water quality", there were serious vulnerabilities due to Irish Water's failures in delivering key improvements.

"Increasing uncertainty in Irish Water’s planning and delivery of critical improvements to water treatment plants is making supplies vulnerable to failure, posing a risk to the health of a large portion of the population," the EPA said.

There were 52 supplies with significant issues to be addressed by Irish Water at the end of 2019, the EPA said. 

"While this figure is down from 63 supplies in 2018, the population affected by these supplies has doubled in the same period to over 1.1 million.

"This is mainly due to the addition of the Leixlip water treatment plant to the list - following two boil water notices last year that affected more than 600,000 people," it added.

Currently, more than 15,000 people - including 12,500 people in Sligo alone using the Lough Talt Regional Water Supply - are on a boil water or restricted use notice, the EPA said.

EPA director general Laura Burke claimed Irish Water's failure to tackle critical improvements was "undermining confidence in the security of supply of safe drinking water".

"The supply of safe drinking water is of critical importance for our wellbeing and for social and economic prosperity," she said.

Delays in delivering public water improvements puts water quality and the public’s health at risk.

"While progress is being made, the multiple failures at the Leixlip water treatment plant last year highlight the serious lack of resilience in our water supplies.

"Irish Water needs to urgently address the underlying causes for the delays and shortcomings highlighted in this report and prioritise investment to ensure that public supplies are safe and secure, and that public health is protected.”

In the key findings in the report, the EPA said:

  • 99.9% of samples comply with microbiological parameter limits
  • 99.6% of samples comply with chemical parameter limits
  • 67 boil water notices and eight water restrictions were in place in 2019, affecting more than 700,000 people
  • 59 of those boil water notices were in place for more than 30 days, meaning they are classed as long-term notices requiring investment in infrastructure to address
  • E. coli bacteria was detected at least once in eight supplies, compared to 12 supplies in 2018

Responding to the report, Irish Water said it recognised the continuing high quality of the public water supply and that it highlighted much of the progress that the utility had made it addressing issues around quality and supply.

Eamon Gallen, General Manager of Irish Water, said: "The building, repair and upgrading of Irish Water’s water treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants, water and sewer network will require a multi-billion euro investment programme over many years.

"Irish Water’s investment plan prioritises key outcomes such as leakage; removing water supplies from the on the EPA’s Remedial Action List; and stopping the discharge of raw sewage into water bodies.”

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