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.


Ian G said...

Have to say I'm glad the Greens are in government for this kind of thing. And we need water charges for excess use definitely - so long as schools and other public places don't suffer as a result.

However, I am concerned that fluoride might be removed from the water supply. The evidence points towards it being beneficial, and the risk of fluoride poisoning is extremely small.

Anonymous said...

We already pay for water via Income tax, I've no problems with metering so long as income tax is reduced by a corresponding amount.

Admin of meters and supply is another concern, do we have to pay lazy, overpaid corrupt civil servants to do the job, or will it be outsourced with service levels guaranteed, with appropriate reductions in local authority staff.

Will we have different regional prices or a standard national price? And who will monitor and account for the differences in the quaility of service? Another Quango, The Minister for Snow, local authorities or our corrupt politicians?

Jobs and money for the boys without accountability again.


mick said...

Sorry, Rickets is caused by Vitamin D deficiency and I doubt it is cured by iodine in salt. I think the iodine ended problems with goitre. Sorry for being picky.

Also despite the recent flooding, no more water should be taken from the Barrow. It is very low for much of the year, whixch is bad for the creatures in it and not good for boating either.

Ciarán said...

Thanks Mick, I should have said mental retardation, not rickets, I've revised the entry.