herald

Thursday 21 November 2019

Another day of waiting in store for 600,000 under boil water notice

Chemicals being delivered to the beleaguered Leixlip Water Treatment Plant this week. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Agency, Dublin
Chemicals being delivered to the beleaguered Leixlip Water Treatment Plant this week. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Agency, Dublin

Dublin householders are facing another wait today to know if they can finally stop boiling their drinking water.

Health and environmental inspectors will gather at the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant this morning to try to find ways around the problems that have affected 600,000 people in parts of Dublin, Kildare and Meath since last Monday.

Results of a third round of daily sampling from water at the plant were due this morning and ordinarily, if they came up clear like the first two, the notice would be lifted.

However, both Irish Water and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were warning last night that the situation was no longer that simple.

The EPA has highlighted underlying weaknesses in the disinfection process at the plant and said that even without the difficulties encountered this week, the plant is not properly equipped to handle risks posed by the raw water it receives.

Speaking before today's audit, Irish Water general manager Eamon Gallen said he understood and appreciated the impact the disruption was having on homes and businesses.

"We have been in ongoing discussions with the EPA and the HSE regarding the criteria to lift the notice," he said.

"The main priority for everyone is the protection of human health. The EPA will audit the plant and Irish Water and Fingal County Council staff will be on site to provide whatever information or support the EPA requires. The HSE will also be present.

"We are pleased that we have had the results of two water samples and both of these have been satisfactory.

"The EPA and HSE may include these satisfactory samples in their audit, but we will be bound by their requirements in this matter."

Some of the requirements have already been identified by Irish Water itself. The company began replacing filters in the older and larger section of the plant last year, but the job is not due to finish until next summer.

The old filters have been struggling to cope with the clouded water that comes into the plant from the River Liffey and to strain out all the dirt, sediment and potential parasites it may contain.

Heavy rain last weekend increased the cloudiness or "turbidity" of the water and gave rise to the current alert over potential parasitic contamination but there have been two days of torrential rain since and more heavy falls are expected overnight tonight, overnight on Sunday and late next week.

The indications are that people have been heeding the warnings.

Disruption

There was no increase in cryptosporidiosis or giardiasis, the main parasitic illnesses, in the period following last month's incident and just two of the 10 cases notified to health authorities were in the eastern region.

However, concerns have been expressed that weariness with the prolonged disruption will cause people to start taking chances, putting their health at risk.

Meanwhile, some of the country's largest local authorities are warning of threats to services as they face multimillion-euro budget cuts next year.

The Herald can reveal that all four local authorities in Dublin, as well as councils in Waterford, Kildare, Wicklow and Limerick, are facing combined budget cuts of over €21m next year because of changes to the way commercial rates for Irish Water are calculated.

Politicians are being warned this could have a "profound" impact on funding for roads and other local services.

The problem has arisen as a result of changes to how commercial rates on Irish Water infrastructure are calculated.

Over the past five years, local authorities were compensated by central government in lieu of commercial rates from Irish Water. Last year they received €46m.

Irish Water will still meet the €46m bill, but a change in the valuation process means that while most local authorities will get more money, several are facing significant shortfalls.

Dublin City Council is facing a budget cut of more than €8.7m; with a cut of €4.1m in South Dublin County Council; €2.3m in Fingal; and €1.2m in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.     

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