Local authorities have been ‘‘reluctant’’ to start costly water improvement projects due to constraints on their finances, ac cording to an internal government memo. Cork County Council went as far as to say that government approval for a multimillion euro water project amounted to inviting the council to commit ‘‘financial suicide’’, as it would have to take a major risk in the initial borrowing. The council’s comments were contained in a submission to the Department of the Environment, which has prepared a memo on the local authorities’ positions. Local authorities are this weekend keeping possible water restrictions under review, du e to a severe weather warning and the reopening of schools tomorrow, which will put further pressure on supply. The memo stated that local authorities had been reluctant to draw down multimillion euro funding grants allocated by central government for water services as they had to borrow a portion of the initial capital costs, particularly of non-domestic water projects. ‘‘The fact that local authorities have to meet the up-front capital costs relating to the non-domestic sector portion of the water services schemes and contracts, against a background of worsened financial positions, has meant a reluctance on the part of local authorities to commence new works,” said the memo, which was prepared for Geraldine Tallon, secretary general at the Department of the Environment. The memo also stated that,’ ‘in light of GBG [general government borrowing] restrictions, there has been some hesitancy by authorities in entering into such future commitments’’. It went on to say that the Department had identified ‘‘delays at project level’’ as a result. ‘‘The department has been monitoring this situation closely in consultation with the CCMA (City and County Managers Association) in order to get projects progressing,” it added, and said it hoped to see more projects commence in 2011. The department has provided letters to several local authorities – which the councils could use when attempting to secure initial borrowing – in which there is a clear commitment that certain projects are on the department’s priority funding list, according to the memo. The briefing document went on to say that many councils around the country had been ‘‘slow in putting effective water conservation measures in place’’, due to conflicting priorities between improving the supply of water and the quality of the supply. However,’ ‘almost all councils’’ now had an active waterloss management system to tackle levels of water lost in normal water transmission, according to the memo, which was obtained under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. The department of the environment has earmarked €320 million for water mains rehabilitation projects, although councils will be allowed to dip into this fund to repair mains that were damaged during the recent bad weather.
New igloo-like structures are appearing in waste treatment facilities in the US as their water saving abilities help to extend the lifespan of the installations.
The devices are an attempt to cope with areas where the local population has outgrown the sewage treatment capabilities.
Each dome contains multiple layers – like the skin of an onion – which increases the surface area that comes into contact with the water to be treated.
Useful bacteria can grow on this surface, consuming pollutants from the water at greater levels than might be achieved through mechanical means.
Normal water saving processes used in sewage farms involve mechanically agitating the water to encourage the removal of pollutants by bacteria.
However, the Bio-Domes – or ‘poo-gloos’ as they are nicknamed – offer an inexpensive way of achieving results that would normally cost millions of dollars.
Poo-gloo was the original name used to refer to the domes during development, but manufacturer Wastewater Compliance Systems says Bio-Dome “isn’t quite as fun; but it’s much more versatile”.
A year after our last water crisis, Ireland is struggling again with shortages and burst pipes. Yet not one kilometre of mains was replaced in Dublin in 2010. Only by spending heavily every year for a decade can we hope to fix our water infrastructure, writes FRANK McDONALD , Environment Editor
IT WILL take at least 10 years of sustained investment to replace or rehabilitate the decaying or substandard water mains that have burst in Dublin and elsewhere over the past fortnight, depriving thousands of people of one of the basic necessities of life during the Christmas holidays.
As Dublin City Council’s chief engineer, Michael Phillips, said this time last year when another rapid thaw caused similar difficulties, “there is no magic wand we can wave” to solve the problem. Much depends on the political priorities of the next government.
Given that domestic water charges are not due to be implemented until 2014, as pledged in the present Government’s recovery programme, hundreds of millions of euro in public money will have to be found over the next three years to pay for the work that needs to be done.
In Dublin, the demand for water surged to 610Ml – that’s megalitres, or 610 million litres in plain language – on St Stephen’s Day and 625Ml the following day. “This was by far the highest two-day demand we ever had,” says the council’s chief sanitary-services engineer, Brian Smyth. “We lost 130Ml from storage, just like that, and we’re still trying to recover.”
“It was as if someone had pulled a plug at the reservoirs,” says the Fingal county manager, David O’Connor. This unprecedented level of water loss happened even though all schools and many businesses were closed for the Christmas holidays.
What aggravated the problem was the extraordinary speed of the thaw after such a prolonged cold spell. Temperatures in some parts of the country rose from minus 15 degrees to plus 10 in just 36 hours.
Ground movements caused by the freeze and rapid thaw led to water mains and service pipes bursting, according to Gerry Galvin, the principal engineering adviser for water at the Department of the Environment. Many household connections were also affected, mainly because they had not been laid deep enough.
“Since the late 1970s building regulations have required all services to be protected from the elements, with pipes to all new houses laid a minimum of 600mm below the surface,” he says.
Many of the leaks arose in unattended commercial premises, which is why appeals were made to keyholders to carry out urgent checks. “More than 5,000 leaks were repaired over the past week throughout the country, ranging from small leaks to burst mains,” Galvin says.
“In most areas supply has been restored, even at low pressure and with night-time restrictions as local authorities continue to replenish depleted reservoirs.”
Co Clare was the “worst affected” this week. The duration of cuts will vary until reservoirs are full again, he adds.
Last April, Minister for the Environment John Gormley published details of a new water services investment programme worth €1.5 billion over the three years from 2010 to 2012. Of the total, €320 million was earmarked for the replacement or rehabilitation of defective or leaking water mains. “This will replace about 600km of the worst mains,” says Galvin. “But it’s going to take a considerable length of time sustaining the same level of investment if the problem is to be solved.” His own estimate is that just dealing with the worst mains will take 10 years.
The problem for this country is that our low population density means we have an awful lot of water mains – 25,000km in all, more per 1,000 people than any other European country. “Barcelona, with three times Dublin’s population, has only 4,500km of water main, compared to 8,000km in Dublin.”
To avail of the latest tranche of funding, each local authority with responsibility for water had to submit a “mains replacement and rehabilitation strategy [to the department], in order to ensure that we’re getting the best bang for our buck”, as Galvin puts it.
Dublin City Council is ahead of the posse because it put in place telemetry systems and district meter areas, which allow it to target mains for the best returns. (Telemetry systems allow workers to monitor water systems remotely.) As a result, “in the next two years, 100km of mains will be replaced” in the city and its water region.
According to the council, levels of leakage in the region have been reduced from 43 per cent in the late 1990s to about 30 per cent. Since 2006, however, only 60km of defective water mains have been replaced – 10 per cent of the total needing renewal.
Not a single kilometre of leaky mains was replaced in Dublin last year, despite last January’s water crisis. Work is due to start shortly on rehabilitation schemes in Dún Laoghaire, Bray and Wicklow under three separate contracts, and two further tenders will close next month. As a result the length of mains replaced or rehabilitated is expected to increase to 115km by the end of this year.
Projects to renew a further 165km are “sitting on the shelf ready to go as soon as we get a nod from the department,” says Smyth.
In the past most of the emphasis in successive water-investment programmes was on water and sewage treatment schemes, driven by a legal requirement to meet the terms of EU water-quality directives. This meant that water-main renewal was virtually neglected.
AFTER REVELATIONS THAT the leakage rate in some counties, such as Roscommon, Kilkenny and south Tipperary, was more than 50 per cent, compared with less than 20 per cent in south Dublin, John Gormley decided to “make it a priority after years of underinvestment”. The programme he launched last April would provide “record levels of investment in both overall water infrastructure and, in particular, mains rehabilitation”.
He also dismisses Fine Gael’s proposal for a national water authority, pointing to the experience of Northern Ireland Water, which has been criticised for leaving thousands without supplies over Christmas.
On Thursday, after a lengthy board meeting and consultations between lawyers, it was announced that Northern Ireland Water’s Scottish-born chief executive, Laurence MacKenzie, was stepping down after 18 months in office. It was said to be a personal decision. Nonetheless, as the publicly-owned company’s website says, MacKenzie was “responsible for the overall performance of Northern Ireland Water”.
That’s not how it turned out. Over a three-day period after Christmas, Northern Ireland Water was bombarded with 600,000 phone calls, 10,000 e-mails and 500,000 hits on its website from customers who had been left in the lurch. An independent investigation has been ordered. A six-hour meeting of the Stormont Executive on Thursday night agreed that the inquiry will look into the performance both of the company and of Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy, of Sinn Féin, during the crisis. Murphy has rejected calls that he should resign.
Gerry Galvin says Northern Ireland Water “didn’t have the resources to draw on to fix leaks whereas councils here were able to redeploy staff from other departments to help with this work”. It also seems that there was a “water production problem” in the North.
He also points out that privatised utilities in Britain, including Anglian Water, Yorkshire Water, Scottish Water and Welsh Water, all had similar problems to ours. “I’ve looked up all their websites – it’s just that they didn’t receive as much media coverage,” he says.
Galvin says the €4.6 billion invested in Irish water infrastructure between 2000 and 2009 “compares very favourably with the UK”, where €90 billion worth of investment was made by British water companies, given the difference in scale between the two countries.
One issue on which Gormley is clear is that any proposal to set up a privatised national water utility here “has to be resisted tooth and nail”. The idea of “making money out of it should be anathema to right-thinking people”.
THOUSANDS of homeowners across the State will continue to experience water restrictions over the weekend and into next week.
A combination of shut-offs and pressure reductions are being imposed in at least six local authority areas because of burst pipes caused by frozen ground thawing.
And families in some counties have been forced to live without water for more than two weeks.
The Conway family, who live in Menlo, Co Galway, were given a temporary tank by Galway County Council after it emerged that they had been without water for the past 19 days.
Mother-of-four Orla Conway said: “We’ve been able to flush a toilet and everybody has been able to have a shower, which was great; but it has been dire.
“Only that we have been on holidays, we’ve had the time to go and find water and come back with it. But we’re both back at work next week so it’s going to be extremely difficult to get water.”
Thousands of people living on the eastern side of Galway city will endure yet another weekend without water.
City council officials confirmed that homeowners and businesses linked to the Ballybane and Briarhill reservoirs would experience either very low pressure or no supply at all overnight.
The restricted supply, between 10pm and 7am may also be repeated later tonight as the council attempts to build up water levels in the Ballybane reservoir.
“People living in parts of the east side of the city will experience just a trickle of water due to low pressure while this procedure is taking place, or they may have no water at all. The problem is that the Ballybane reservoir has not had a chance to properly re-fill over the extended period of severe weather, followed by the thaw which brought the leaks,” a city council spokesman explained.
Adding to the problem is the continued discovery of leaks in pipes, caused by the thaw.
Water tankers will continue to be deployed in the suburbs.
Problems also remain in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, where a ‘boil water’ notice is in place. Homeowners are also being told to boil water in Connemara, mid-Galway and in Gort.
Restrictions remain in place in Kildavin, Tinnahinch and Borris, Co Carlow, and while supply is almost back to normal in Clare, restrictions remain in place in Corofin and Ruan.
A burst mains resulted in cut-offs in Ballinabooly, Co Kilkenny, while restrictions were put in place in Ballymote, Co Sligo, last night. Reservoir levels remain low across the country, while Waterford is also affected.
There will be no let-up in restrictions in Dublin until at least next week, with concerns about the impact of the return of colleges and schools.
Thousands of residents on the east side of the city are facing more water woes this weekend as Galway City Council introduces fresh restrictions on supply from reservoirs.
Supply from the Briarhill water reservoir was restricted last night (Thursday) and again tonight between 10pm and 7am – the local authority concedes that the night time restrictions could be repeated again Saturday and Sunday.
This means that hundreds of homes and businesses in Doughiska and Roscam will be without water or have low pressure.
The Briarhill reservoir had returned to reasonable levels in recent days, but the City Council says the new restrictions are being introduced in order to replenish Ballybane reservoir, which remains critically low and which is connected to the Briarhill reservoir.
“Water levels at Ballybane reservoir are still quite low and it hasn’t had an opportunity to rebuild because of a number of leaks in the Ballybane area which are being dealt with,” a spokesperson for the Council said. By restricting Briarhill the Council hopes Ballybane will refill.
Clifton Hill on Circular Road and Tonabrocky reservoirs are still not back to normal but water levels have recovered substantially from the critically low levels last week.
The City Council says that most areas have had water restored although individual homes in some estates citywide as well as several ‘pockets’ in parts of the city – particularly in high-lying areas or older areas – remain without water, three weeks after the shortages began.
Meanwhile, Director of Services for Transport and Infrastructure Ciarán Hayes is expected to tell Councillors at Monday’s meeting that the already cash-strapped local authority has spent up to €200,000 more than it had budgeted for during the latest winter weather and water crisis.
The additional expenditure was on extra salt and grit supplies for the roads during the December freeze; the cost of repairing potholes as a result of the extreme weather; as well as the cost of the water shortages including paying Council staff overtime and employing outside contractors to deal with fixing leaks when the Stephen’s Day thaw arrived. Emergency Government funding is expected to be sought to cover the additional costs.
Water restrictions are still in place in many parts of the country tonight.
Local authorities say interruptions in supply are likely to continue until the end of this week as they wait for levels at reservoirs to recover.
Demand for water surged today as many people returned to work following the Christmas break, while many areas are also struggling with leakage from ageing and decaying pipes.
Engineer with Dublin City Council Brian McKeown said he was confident restrictions would be lifted in the days ahead.
“The fundamental issue is that our demand, including the leakage, is above our capacity to treat water and by putting in restrictions, we’ve driven that demand down so that we can put water into storage,” he said.
He said as leaks were fixed, demand would drop below their ability to treat the water and at that stage “we’re back to normal”.
We are getting a lot of enquires as you can imagine this week about finding leaks in houses.
This link below has some useful tips in locating leaks about the home that may save you both time and money.
Happy hunting ! ! !
Frozen Pipes Advice to Householders
Because of the unprecedented cold spell, resulting in frost penetration deep into the ground, many householders are experiencing problems due to frozen water pipes.
The two most common sources of the problem are:
- Either a service pipe between the watermain and the house, which because of the depth at which it has been laid has frozen, or
- A pipe in an attic, which because of inadequate lagging has frozen.
Because of the diverse nature of each individual case, it is not feasible to issue â€œone size fits allâ€ advice. In general, householders experiencing problems with frozen pipes are advised to contact their own plumber. The plumber should be able to locate the blockage and may be able to advise on ways of freeing or bypassing the frozen pipe in the short term.
Individual tips which might help to avoid frozen pipes are:
- Wrap a towel around an outside tap.
- Open the attic trap door to allow heat into the attic.
- Leave a light on in the attic.
- Leave heating on longer than normal.
- Place a piece of insulation eg. carpet/matting over your external stopcock.
- Park a car over your external stopcock.
- Farmers should carry out regular check on service pipes to water troughs.
When carrying out any measures to ensure pipes do not freeze, members of the public are reminded to ensure that the measures are carried out in a manner which is safe and does not create a hazard for either themselves or for the general public.
Households should know where your stop valve is in the case of emergency.
For more details/tips visit the following link
HOUSEHOLDERS have been warned to expect drinking water shortages over the coming days as the thaw sets in.
Despite water mains being buried up to one metre deep, the ground shifts as it thaws, which can cause the pipes to rupture, Dublin city engineer Michael Phillips said yesterday.
More than a dozen local authorities have issued pleas to the public to conserve water as reservoir stocks run low because of unprecedented demand. For full story click link below.