27 January, 2010

Water world

That's the view from the dam in Roundwood in Co. Wicklow, looking across the filter beds that supply part of Dublin's water supply. It gives you some idea of the investment required to bring clean water to your kitchen tap.There's a fine walk you take around the lake that takes a couple of hours.

For the last few years supplies have been at a knife-edge in metropolitan Dublin with engineers struggling to supply enough water to cope with the city's expansion through the boom years.

In recent weeks pipe-leaks caused by the cold weather have compunded the problem, leading to lack of supply, water off notices and low pressure around the city. In Dún Laoghaire the Council has set up an emergency blog to update users on the current difficulties, and provided water tankers to badly-hit areas.

All sorts of options are being looked at for increasing water supply to Dublin, including contentious proposals to pipe water from the Shannon or Barrow rivers. The Dublin Water Supply Project website  explores some of the options. A century of under-investment in water supply has contributed to the challenge that we face, and the City Council website gives an overview of where our water comes from. Since the Greens came into Government in 2007 John Gormley has increased the amount of investment in water services, and currently half a billion Euro is being spent per year. Apart from lack of supply, the quality issue is important, and there were significant outbreaks of Cryptosporidium around the country in recent years.

I'm not a great fan of the addition of fluoride to municipal water supplies, but many dentists say that it reduces fillings, but perhaps we should ensure that our children are consuming less sugar in the first instance. Many are concerned at the principal of mass medication, but it needs to be pointed out that adding iodine to salt has dramatically reduced the incidence of rickets. mental retardation. A study is currently planned to determine the levels of fluoride in the Irish population, and this should lead to an informed decision on the issue.

In New York City most of the municipal water flows directly from reservoirs without treatment. However over there, they have a fine history of protecting watershed from development over the last hundred years. Closer to home we have allowed significant development to take place upstream of both the Roundwood and Blessington reservoirs, both of which supply the capital with water. Perhaps a stricter planning regime would allow us to spend less on purifying and cleansing our water before it is piped into Dublin.

The new Programme for Government that the Green Party negotiated with Fianna Fáil back in October of last year contains a proposal to install water meters and charge for excessive use. Richard Tol from the ESRI believes that all water  should be charged for. Either way I believe that it makes sense to put a price on resources such as water. Naturally enough there are objections to charging for a resource that we often take for granted, and Joe has a meeting scheduled for the 13th February. Jaundiced rural dwellers will no doubt point out (as they did when waste charges were introduced) that they have been paying for water for years through their Group Water Schemes.

I feel we need to continue investment in reducing leaks throughout the system, but some sort of end of pipe charge can concentrate minds on using water resources wisely.

09 January, 2010

Be careful out there

Believe me, you don't want to trip. 

I did and I'm suffering the consequences. I'm recovering from sprained rib muscles from a fall last Monday- quite painful, even with Difene, Paracetamol and all the benefits of modern medication. I'd like to say I was hill-walking or doing something exotic, but I tripped on the stairs in NEXT in Blackrock Shopping Centre, and have been taking it handy ever since.

Meanwhile the Killiney Alps have never looked so good. After a chilly photo-shoot featuring solar-powered street lighting with Jaune Hendy from Ecotec and Peter Moloney at Killiney Shopping Centre I headed up the hill along Ballinclea Road to a winter scene overlooking Dublin Bay. The kids had a ball - tobogging down the hill, and hundreds of others were having a great time.

So far Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has been doing a good job informing the public about the action they are taking to deal with the cold snap (or maybe that should be a prolonged break). They've been posting updates on the news scroller on their website, with a lot of useful info on gritting and water conservation during the cold weather.

Local Authorities are in charge of maintaining most roads, and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown have a map showing which roads are due for gritting here. I'm pleased that they understand the need to grit footpaths as much as roads. Nationally the Emergency Response Co-ordination Committee has been meeting, and John Gormley has stated that the Defence Forces are available to assist any Local Authority that needs additional help. 

In the meantime, a little common sense can go a long way towards helping us through, and here's some practical advice:

1. If you're able, clean the footpath outside your home. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes with a spade or shovel. It reduces the risk of neighbours slipping and sends out a signal that all is safe and well.

2. Call into any neighbour that you haven't seen out and about. An offer to pop down to Londis to pick up a few messages will be well received.

3. Try not to drive, but if you have to venture out, shift up to second gear once the car is moving, and keep the revs low. When slowing down let the gears do most of the work, and avoid sudden braking. There's good advice on the radio, RTE news website and AA Roadwatch's website and Twitter feed, as well as Dublin Bus and Irish Rail.

4. When walking, take short steps (penguin walk, as someone said to me yesterday). A pair of old socks can give great grip, if worn outside your shoes. Dress in layers and make sure to wear a thick hat, gloves and scarf.

5. If you have frozen pipes,  a hairdryer and extension lead can help deal with the issue inside the house. If the problem lies outside you can contact your local Council. Dún Laoghaire Rathdown information is here, and their emergency number is 677 8844.

6. Keep an eye on the weather forecast. Met Eireann have a good Dublin area forecast here, and Wind Guru is a bit more techie, but looks further ahead here.

Enjoy the snow if you can, but be careful out there.

06 January, 2010

Why Postcodes will provide joined-up Government

I had a natter yesterday on the Last Word with Matt Cooper on TodayFM about postcodes. 

Liz McManus from the Labour Party was on with me, and to put it frankly I was gob-smacked that she and her party are currently opposing the introduction of postcodes.

Postcodes (sometimes known as location codes) are a way of making it easier and quicker for post to get delivered. They also function as location codes that will allow us to better plan for services in the future whether it’s new schools or health services.

They will save lives by ensuring that emergency services can pinpoint a specific address. John Kidd of National fulltime Fire-fighters, SIPTU said:
 “It is no exaggeration to say lives will be saved”.

Dozens of street names are duplicated in Dublin, and even a moment’s confusion in despatching an ambulance can make the crucial difference. There’s a Quarry Road in Shankill, as well as one in Cabra. There’s also a Pembroke Lane in Dublin 2 as well as Dublin 4. I know this because I remember my sister telling me about the Guards battering down the door of one of her neighbours looking for a drug dealer a few years ago. The unfortunate women had to inform them that there were two Pembroke Lanes before they stopped attacking her front door with a sledgehammer.

There’s a Ballybeg in Antrim, Carlow, Down, Waterford and one in Wicklow. I’ve no idea how many ‘Old Bog Roads’ we have in Ireland but chances are that more than one or two squad cars, ambulances or letters have gone to the wrong one because we don’t have a postcode system.

Postcodes will make it easier to provide joined up government. It’ll make it easier for the Central Statistics Office to allow census data to be analysed and correlated to information held by the Department of Health, Education or the Revenue Commissioners. This will allow us to to better plan for school numbers or health facilities. The Geodirectory database developed by An Post and the Ordnance Survey is a good step in the right direction to providing postcodes in Ireland, but it needs to go further in order to allow the public, businesses and semi-state agencies to take full advantage of the benefits.

You won’t lose your old address. That’ll still be used in mailing. You’ll still be able to put Dublin 4, or 14 on an envelope, but it may also come with something along the lines of D04 123 or D14 567 to better pinpoint your position. Satnavs will operate better, and so will home delivery. Some companies have come up with good ideas for postcodes already.

I’ve been posting out 35,000 newsletters every six months or so for the last eight years. An Post as far as I know still can’t allow me the option of sending them only to constituents in the Dún Laoghaire Dáil constituency. With postcodes accurately determining the boundaries, this type of delivery will be a piece of cake. Of course direct marketing companies will be rubbing their hands with glee, but if it is done correctly it will be possible to opt out of corporate direct mailings from the An Post database. Sure, it will open up the market, but that creates opportunities as well as challenges for An Post and others. I’d say it’ll create and protect jobs. It will take us finally into the 20th, if not the 21st century.

If data protection Issues can be successfully resolved, and I don’t see why they can’t,  it’ll allow us to burrow down into data that is lost by the law of large numbers. 

-Has access to third level really increased over the last decade for people in disadvantaged areas, or do the statistics simply show that there was an influx of graduates into a gentrifying neighbourhood? 

-Is there a cancer cluster of statistical significance beside an old landfill site? 

Location codes will allow us to answer these questions. 

Of course you can still do much of this number crunching with existing data, but it’s difficult to correlate information for the Bray Road, or Main Street,  or Blackrock Stradbrook to other data. Postcodes  will provide the matrix or the glue that will allow for better government to happen overnight.

The majority of countries have post codes. Afghanistan doesn’t, Angola doesn’t, and I thought Albania didn’t but Wikipedia tells me it now does. 117 of the 190 member countries of the Universal Postal Union have postal code systems. In Canada even Santa Claus’s factory at the North Pole has a postcode. It’s HOH OHO of course.

As far as I can see we are the last country in the EU without a publicly accessible postcode system. Liz McManus feels it may cost up to €50 million to introduce. I suspect the costs will be closer to €15 million, and that the money will be recouped quickly through efficiencies in the delivery of services.

This is a modernising initiative, and is long overdue. The days of old-style protectionism are over. I fully support this initiative.