I thank the Deputies for raising this Topical Issue, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. The ongoing issues with the water supply in Skerries have been prominent for the past week.
Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has had statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level. Irish Water, as a single national utility, is taking a strategic, nationwide approach to asset planning and investment. The company recognises that many decades of underinvestment have led to a legacy of deficiencies in our drinking water and wastewater treatment plants and networks. Its water services plan published in October 2015 sets out a strategy over 25 years to ensure the provision of clean, safe drinking water, effective management of wastewater, environmental protection and support for economic and social development.
The first ever water services policy statement, prepared in line with the Water Services Acts, which was recently launched by the Minister, outlines a clear direction for strategic planning and decision-making on water and wastewater services in Ireland. It sets out a series of high-level policy objectives across the three thematic areas of quality, conservation and future proofing, which must be pursued when planning capital investment and framing current spending plans. It will provide the context in which necessary funding and investment plans by Irish Water will be framed and agreed.
On foot of the water services policy statement, Irish Water’s forthcoming strategic funding plan will set out the costs of providing domestic and non-domestic water services and the recovery of these costs. It will distinguish between operational and capital expenditure, and provide projections of income over the multi-annual period, 2020 to 2024. Subject to its approval by the Minister, Deputy Murphy, the strategic funding plan will feed into the allowed revenue determination for Irish Water by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, as the economic regulator of Irish Water, and, ultimately, feed into annual Estimates and the budgetary process.
The water supply issues in Skerries and elsewhere are a consequence of legacy underinvestment, which has been exacerbated by a lack of planned asset management and maintenance programmes. Furthermore, Irish Water has confirmed that the recent dry spell and increased seasonal demand are contributing to the reduced available supply of treated drinking water for Skerries and surrounding areas, while increased demand, in particular from Rush, has led to reduced levels in the Thomastown reservoir. Consequently, the company had to impose restrictions on the water supply serving Skerries and surrounding areas. Irish Water has asked those customers who do have full supply to conserve water by refraining from watering gardens, washing cars, using power hoses and minimising their use generally. Every small effort to save water will contribute to maintaining supplies and benefit the entire community by reducing the likelihood of further restrictions.
Irish Water, together with Fingal County Council, is investigating the possibility of network reconfiguration to provide flows to the areas worst impacted by the restrictions, namely, those at the extremities of the network and on higher ground. In the longer term, the company is examining an option to provide a booster pumping station on the feeder main to the Thomastown reservoir to increase its capacity from about 2.8 million l per day to 4 million l per day, subject to full evaluation of the pipe capacity for the increased pressure. This option will require detailed planning, design and construction and, therefore, will be targeted at 2019 delivery. With regard to the Deputies' comments, the Government will financially support the measures Irish Water deems necessary to ensure people have access to proper water in Skerries and the surrounding areas.
As part of the review of water supply infrastructure across the greater Dublin area, other strengthening of the strategic networks is planned over the next two to three years to give greater resilience in the system, for example, to enable greater flexibility between the Fingal and Dublin city supply networks in this area. Consequently, Irish Water is exhausting all avenues in implementing a series of actions to address the challenge of water supply and minimise disruptions to the communities in Skerries, as well as longer-term plans to ensure a sustainable resilient water supply.