Water Supply in West Waterford

Water Supply in West Waterford

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh

The Minister of State has so far been on a tour of the country. He has been in the Shannon Callows and he has been in Celbridge. I will bring him to west Waterford and Deputy Buckley will shortly take him across the Cork-Waterford border to east Cork. I will bring him to a number of places in west Waterford, but I will begin with Tallow, County Waterford. There are just over 1,000 people in the town itself. It obviously serves a bigger population than that in the wider hinterland. It is a beautiful old town that used to be on the Waterford to Mallow rail line. Good work is happening there in trying to redevelop a greenway, which I think would be fantastic for the town. It is situated on the River Bride, which flows into the Blackwater, An Abhainn Mhór. It is a beautiful part of the world. As Deputy Buckley will advert to in a moment there has been no shortage of water in west Waterford or east Cork recently. In the case of Tallow, it is water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink in a literal sense. As with so many issues we come across in the House, it arises from the individual making contact with us. An older gentleman contacted me to let me know that he was out of water and out of power. He acknowledges that he is at the end of the line in terms of water pressure. It is a recurring event for him, but for a man of that age to be without water and power for a period of time is not acceptable.

However, when you scratch below the surface you find that it is not an individual instance. There are actually night-time restrictions in place for water in Tallow. All the residents of Tallow are subjected to this shortage. You then speak to the local engineers. The issue is around headroom, as in how much clean drinkable water is being produced. However, more to the point is how much is being lost. It is referred to as unaccounted water by Uisce Éireann. We know it as leakage – huge leakage within the system.

Since there is huge leakage in the system we cannot produce the clean water quickly enough to ensure continuity of supply. If you zoom out again and look across west Waterford you will see it is not a localised problem. There are similar issues in Ballyduff, which again is a small village on the River Blackwater. There are huge headroom issues and it is again down to unaccounted for water. If you move across to Lismore, there is a slightly different issue, where people were taking water from the mountain, which was fine and well, but they have replaced it now with groundwater. That is better in terms of water quality, trihalomethanes, THMs, and so on. However, when they moved from one system to another no reservoir was put in place. That means if there is a power cut, the pump stops and the water supply stops. More than that, as somebody familiar with it described it to me, if you are looking to do any repairs it is like trying to change the light bulb without turning off the light. How are they going to do any sort of repairs, upgrades or expansion of the headroom within that supply? There is no backup, there is no buffer and there is no reservoir.

I am informed that funding has been allocated for Tallow. If funding has been allocated, when will the works begin? That is on the specific instance in Tallow. When we look at the likes of Ballyduff and Lismore with that wider lens, they are on a watercourse but still have headroom issues, which means these towns and villages do not have the opportunity to grow in the way west Waterford deserves.

Minister Peter Burke

I thank the Deputy for his important Topical Issue. I will first address the water supply issues in west Waterford. As the Deputy will understand, the supply of public water and the provision of water services in general are matters for Uisce Éireann in the first instance. However, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has made inquiries with Uisce Éireann on the issues mentioned, and I have been informed as follows.

Uisce Éireann is aware of the water outages that the communities of west Waterford, in particular those currently experienced in Cappoquin, Lacken and Ballyduff. Outages in all of these areas have been impacted further by leaks caused by the recent cold weather followed by a thaw and milder temperatures. The weather conditions have also impacted other areas of the county and country. I have been assured by Uisce Éireann that it is working tirelessly to restore the supply in these areas and it apologises for the inconvenience caused. The areas of Tallow and Lismore are also experiencing outages. Tallow was under essential night-time restrictions. The restrictions were necessary to allow reservoir levels to recover, and to ensure homes and businesses have a normal daytime supply. The cold spell followed by a thaw has led to an increased level of leakage, further impacting the issue. With demand at or near capacity, water services and leakage detection crews were on the ground working to tackle leaks and to maximise treatment capacity. Uisce Éireann is asking the public for its support to help reduce the overall demand by preventing avoidable loss of water and by conserving water. Water levels will be reviewed and updates provided to the community as necessary.

Uisce Éireann crews identified and repaired a significant leak on the Tallow supply on Tuesday of this week. This repair led to the restrictions being lifted. However crews have identified multiple private side leaks, which will also need to be repaired as soon as possible to bring down the unaccounted for water to a more manageable level, reduce further need for restrictions and increase pressures to elevated customers.

There are two causes of outages in Lismore. Excessive demand due to leakage caused low pressure problems, which led to water outages particularly in high ground areas last week. Uisce Éireann has leakage detection crews working on locating the leaks and repairing them. Lismore does not have any on-site water storage, so any interruption to production has an immediate effect on all customers. When supply is restored, it can take a number of hours to recharge the water mains, especially in elevated areas. Uisce Éireann acknowledges the limitations of existing water treatment plant infrastructure, and is pursuing a permanent solution to address this. This involves an upgrade of the water treatment plant with storage colocated at the same site in Lismore. The proposed plan is included in the assessment, which is currently ongoing. Uisce Éireann cannot provide permanent storage until the ground water investigations have been completed and a new site chosen.

Providing temporary storage is challenging as it may require land purchase and planning permission. However, Uisce Éireann is investigating to see if an alternative temporary solution is available.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh

I thank the Minister of State. I know responsibility lies with Irish Water. However, as we have all experienced, we can make the necessary representations through the Oireachtas liaison channels but sometimes the focus of the Dáil on the issue helps to sharpen attention and that is what I hope to do this evening. The Minister of State did more or less what I did in my initial contribution; he outlined the problem and he identified where the problems are. The people of Lismore, Tallow, Cappoquin and Ballyduff are more interested in knowing when the problem will be fixed because we know what the problem is.

We know that people do not especially like spending money on water infrastructure. First, they have to dig up the place to put the pipes in and people do not much like that. It also causes disruption to their water supply and people do not much like that either. After spending all of the money, they bury it and nobody can see it. However, it has the benefit of allowing these communities to grow. The Minister of State mentioned Athlone in his constituency. What is holding back towns and villages throughout Waterford and across the country is the infrastructure. There are great opportunities for these towns and villages to grow and thrive. We are seeing significant investment in public transport which is helping to connect these towns and villages together in the way that we have not seen before.

Places like Tallow have put in co-working spaces trying to draw jobs back into the community. We have seen really progressive ideas in Lismore, Cappoquin and Villierstown which are giving people opportunities in the communities where they grew up. However, in order to allow these places to thrive, flourish and provide a way of living in our countryside that is in keeping with our environmental concerns and bring people back into our towns and villages supporting our local services through population, we need investment in infrastructure. I would like a timeline to know when exactly that will happen.

Minister Peter Burke

I commend the Deputy on raising this issue. I agree that Dáil Éireann is the forum to raise infrastructural issues and indeed issues that really impact on people in the Deputy’s locality like the elderly gentleman that he referenced in his opening contribution and the effects on his life of having no power and water for a protracted period of time. It is important that Uisce Éireann gets on with its investment programme. From the reply, I note it is assessing the upgrade and the capacity at that location. That is included in the assessment being done in the county. I will relay that and the Deputy’s other comments to Uisce Éireann.

He is absolutely right in saying that Dáil Éireann is here to hold the Government to account. Deputies have to hold us to account. We all have to serve our constituents to the best of our ability and water infrastructure is a vital utility in that regard. We have seen what lack of investment in the past has meant for localities in terms of leakage and pressure points where raw sewage has been discharged into freshwater courses and all the work that has to be done to resolve that. We have a significant programme of work. I know Uisce Éireann is getting on with that work. This is absolutely the right place to raise it. I will raise it with the Minister to ensure that the Deputy gets the investment that is needed to rectify those problems in the future.