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Water Services Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] The Social Democrats believe oversight is critical. Its omission from the Bill is serious. Given this, I sincerely hope the Government will accept the proposed amendment to the legislation.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill. The debate on whether we should pay or not pay for water in the public system appears to be over. A decision has been taken democratically and that is where the issue stands. However, people need to understand that, whether the money comes from the right or the left pocket, it will come from some pocket to provide the €10 billion or €12 billion in funding that will be required in the coming years for the infrastructure which has been neglected during the years.

I have worked in water services and say to people who have not worked in that area that it is good that we have had a debate on water services and that a new body is in place for the simple reason, as anyone who works in the area will be aware, that the issue of wayleaves has not been sorted downthe years. There are major problems in rural areas. In places a meter was installed. Perhaps two further meters were installed down the road on the same pipe and ferocious discrepancies were found. That problem was not being solved. We might like to give out about Irish Water and there were things wrong with it from the day it was set up, but any public representative who engages with and contacts it during the day or at night will receive a response. Even today I contacted it about the supply of water in ten areas. An electricity outage can occur, but people can telephone straightaway when they have no water supply. In fairness, Irish Water brought supplies to areas that were fairly difficult to get to during the years.

We have come a long way from the day when youngsters waited for the milk can to be delivered from the creamery in order to go to the well to bring water home. Many years ago great people got together years in different parts of Ireland. With only the assistance of bad machinery, they put pipes into the ground to bring water to houses. They should be remembered and respected in this debate for the work they did. We can criticise the pipes now that they are busted, but they laid those pipes in the 1960s and 1970s when people gathered in houses as there were no community centres and decided to get water flowing.

At the time, water was brought from a well from which cattle could also have been drinking, but now we have EU water quality regulations. Water comes from the sky into the soil. Depending on its depth, it seeps through the rock and comes up through a spring in some places and boreholes in others. Because people's immune systems are not strong as they were in the past, we have to treat water. We have to chlorinate it. If it does not meet certain standards, it will require ultraviolet treatment to deal with cryptosporidium. We also have to ensure the quality of water supplied to the last house and that the chlorine residual value is no higher than 0.20 mg/l. That is illustrates the difference and the costs involved in the provision of water services.

There is a plan to provide certainty in the provision of water services throughout the country. If water is to be brought from the River Shannon to where it is needed in cities such as Dublin, we will have a constant supply and a source that could be treated. We could use the machinery required to bring it to the standard people require.

In following the debate I have heard people talk about having meters here, there and everywhere and about counties that do not need as many meters as others. My group water scheme was using 960 cu. m a week. It is a small scheme. When we installed meters, we reduced the volume of consumption to 350 cu. m. The value of meters, regardless of whether people want to believe it or pay for water, is that within four years they will pay for themselves in terms of the cost of electricity, chlorination and all of the different processes used in the provision of water. The matter needs to be put in context. There is no point in directing water down into the ground where people looking for leaks will not find them. If one installs meters and loggers - this is scientific detail for those who want to shout about the issue - one will end up finding leaks along any part of the line.

I am concerned about those participating in group water schemes. I do not want those who have to pay for water in their local schemes to go out to work and also pay their taxes just like anybody else. In my book that is double taxation. I ask the Minister of State and the Dáil to make sure the subsidy being paid to group water schemes is increased to ensure those participating in them who use water for domestic purposes will be given the same facility as those connected to the public water supply. This has to be done before the end of the year. We cannot have apartheid in the water system, depending on whether one is in a town or wherever else. One could have two people living in a village, one of whom is participating in a group water scheme functioning on one side of the village, while the other is connected to a public water supply on the other and there would be two ratios.

We need to bear in mind the costs involved. Anybody who understands water services will be aware that, as one comes to the end of a line, a 4 in pipe is brought down to a 3 in pipe which, in turn, is brought down to a 2 in pipe. If those involved in group water schemes give up on them because of the way they are being treated and if the public supply has to be joined to the supply to their homes, laying new pipes, including the use of a 4 in pipe to ensure a sufficient supply, will cost way more than it would to make sure we treat the people concerned right. This issue urgently needs a Government response. The Government should allay the fears of those participating in group water schemes, of whom there are probably 300,000 or 400,000. There are also people who live along byroads who have no access to a public supply of water or a group water scheme and who have spent €4,000 or €5,000 in employing somebody to sink a well. A grants system needs to be put in place every four or five years, either to replace a person's pump or install a UV treatment system to ensure the water quality is to the required standard.

I agree that those who paid their water charges should receive a refund. When this debate is over, they should get their money back. It was paid in good faith and they deserve to get their money back.

The other aspect about which no one seems to have spoken is that the water one drinks ends up in the sewerage system somewhere else. Ironically, it costs more to treat sewage than water because pipes have to be laid and a treatment plant is required. One must make sure raw sewage is 95% to 96% perfect when treated. We need to make a massive investment in every town to deal with raw sewage. Common sense must also prevail. I am aware of a situation where two or three Environmental Protection Agency reports have been produced and there is talk of raw sewage in a special area of conservation. In fairness to Irish Water, it has put money aside to deal with the issue. It has stated it will do the work, but some of the geniuses, instead of going 100 m into the lake with 96% or 97% water, are talking about a distance of 6 km or 7 km with the same pipe.

Debate adjourned.

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