Irish Water made almost no progress on replacing lead pipes last year, a new report has found.
The organisation replaced 3,500 connections last year, down from more than 10,000 in 2019.
The Water Advisory Body, which monitors water infrastructure, said it is worried about the lack of progress on the issue.
The advisory body said lead pipes can cause a variety of health issues, including problems with kidneys.
Dr.Michelle Minihan is a Senior Inspector at the Environmental Protection Agency and a member of the Water Advisory Board.
She joined Clem Ryan on this morning's edition of Kildare Today, where Irish Water's statement was delivered by Eoin Beatty.
Irish Water's statement to Kfm Radio on the WAB report:
Irish Water notes the publication of the Water Advisory Board’s (WAB) third Quarterly Report of 2020. Irish Water’s investment plan continues to prioritise the need to support housing and development with our obligations to safeguard public health and protecting the environment. Despite the challenges it has faced over the last year, Irish Water is making real and tangible progress working with local communities to improve and deliver critical infrastructure which has suffered from years of historic underinvestment. Irish Water also welcomes acknowledgement by the WAB of improved customer engagement and complaints resolution services.
Remedial Action List
When Irish Water was established in 2014 there were 140 water supplies on the Remedial Action List (RAL). As of Q3 2020 there were 51 supplies on the RAL with 5 supplies having been removed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2020, who have responsibility in this regard. In our Q4 2020 submission, Irish Water presented a further 9 supplies for removal from the RAL for EPA consideration. We await their assessment and decision, which is expected to be published at the end of this month. In the majority of cases most of the supplies on the Remedial Action List require significant infrastructural works and improvements which are subject to funding availability and statutory processes including planning permission and environmental consent. Irish Water is continuing to prioritise the removal of water supplies from the Remedial Action List and we hope to complete works which will enable the removal of a further 19 water supplies in 2021 including Vartry and Leixlip, two of the biggest water treatment plants in the country.
Water leaving Irish Water’s treatment plants is lead free and our records show that there are no lead public water mains in Ireland. On the public side Irish Water is currently working on the replacement of all known public side lead. There are an estimated 180,000 lead service connections in Ireland and Irish Water has replaced over 35,000 to date as they are mapped as part of our €500m Leakage Reduction Programme.
As detailed in the Lead Mitigation Plan Irish Water is also looking at the feasibility of adding orthophosphate to water supplies as an interim measure. This is a food grade additive that coats pipes and thereby reduces the risk of lead in drinking water. A pilot scheme was introduced in the Clareville Plant in Limerick and we are looking to roll this out to other plants after appropriate assessments have been conducted. In addition, we are rolling out a programme of capital works installing the equipment necessary to dose orthophosphate which will ensure that drinking water supplies in areas with lead connections are compliant while the work of physically replacing the connections is completed. Irish Water offers a customer opt in service where a homeowner replaces their private side lead, we will prioritise the public side lead at no cost to the customer.
Despite Covid-19 restrictions and budget constraints Irish Water still replaced 3,025 lead services in 2020 which includes work carried out in Q4 not included in the report. In 2019 significant progress was made with 15,000 connections replaced against a target of 9,000.
Boil Water Notices
Irish Water acknowledges the impact and inconvenience caused by the imposition of boil water notices to homes and businesses. It is important to recognise that Boil water notices are an essential tool with the primary purpose of protecting public health and our first priority must always be provision of safe, clean drinking water. Significant progress has been since Irish Water was established in 2014 when approximately 16,000 customers were on boil water notices, some of which were in place for a number of years. Currently, there 11 boil water notices in place impacting 1,246 customers and we expect to lift the majority of those notices this year. In November 2020 Irish Water successfully completed upgrade works on the Lough Talt water treatment plant, which enabled the lifting of the Boil Water notice on the Lough Talt supply (after this report was compiled) benefitting 12,500 customers in the locality. This Boil Water Notice had been in place since January 2019.
Leixlip Water Treatment plant
Irish Water, working in partnership with Fingal County Council, is progressing with works to upgrade the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant (WTP), a significant investment which will benefit over 600,000 people across the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) through an improved water supply. A significant project milestone was reached in October with the upgrade of 15 filters, each of which can process up to 12 mega litres of water per day, that’s the equivalent of 5 olympic sized swimming pools. Works to install an ultra-violet disinfection system will be completed early next year resulting in a safer and more secure water supply for homes and businesses served by the plant. Furthermore the risk of any future Boil Water Notices will be greatly reduced.
Commenting on the publication of Water Advisory Board report, Irish Water General Manager Eamon Gallen said, “Irish Water is committed to providing a safe and reliable water supply, protecting the environment, safeguarding public health in addition to supporting the growth of homes and businesses. We are always striving to prioritise the best possible service improvements, while maximising value-for-money with funding available. Progress across a portfolio of projects remains challenging given the impact of Covid-19 restrictions in 2020 in addition to extensive statutory and planning issues. The list of projects and programmes is continuously being refined based on new and emerging needs and is subject to budget, technical and environmental constraints, as well as statutory approval. To make the necessary improvements to Ireland’s water and waste water infrastructure will take many years and continued significant capital investment.