Tuesday 28 January 2020

Boil alert is lifted but confidence in Irish Water is at lowest ebb

Leixlip water treatment plant in Co Kildare where 'issues' were detected in the supply
Leixlip water treatment plant in Co Kildare where 'issues' were detected in the supply

There was relief for 600,000 people affected by this week's boil water notice after Irish Water got the all-clear to resume normal services.

However, the utility now faces a grilling from Housing, Planning and Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy and TDs, as well as an angry backlash from businesses over the disruption.

The notice was lifted after inspectors from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visited the Leixlip water treatment plant and fresh tests of water samples came up clear for the cryptosporidium and giardia parasites feared to have entered the supply.


Fingal County Council, which operates the plant for Irish Water, the EPA and the HSE backed the decision.

However, the EPA's preliminary findings from its inspection raise questions for Irish Water's handling of the incident, which affected large parts of Dublin, Kildare and Meath.

It found there was a blockage at the plant that resulted in a malfunction that lasted 14 hours from 3pm last Monday to 5am on Tuesday.

During that time, the barrier for cleaning the water of parasites did not work, resulting in a "significant risk to the safety of the water supply".

There was also "a failure to respond to multiple alarms that activated" to warn plant staff there was a problem.

The chain of events is almost identical to an incident at the plant last March.

After that, the EPA was told "an automatic plant shutdown will be initiated" if an alarm went unanswered for more than 15 minutes. It is not clear why that did not happen this week, and Irish Water said it could not comment until the full audit report was completed.

The EPA said it would publish a full audit next Wednesday, but Mr Murphy expressed concern at what was known so far.

"I am extremely concerned to hear that the EPA found no system was in place to respond adequately to process alarms at the water treatment plant serving a major part of our capital city and surrounding area," he said.

He added that he would meet the managing director of Irish Water and the chief executive of Fingal County Council. He has also requested the EPA's opinion on the incident and the response of Irish Water and Fingal County Council.

Adrian Cummins, of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said the utility should refund businesses the cost of their water charges for days they did not get a proper service. Irish Water said a discount was available.

Graeme McQueen, of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, said the incident showed how vulnerable the region's water supply was.

"Dublin businesses want a consistent, reliable supply," he said.

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