Issues Affecting the Quality of Water: Discussion

At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, members and visitors in the Public Gallery are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to airplane, safe of flight mode. It is not sufficient to just put phones on silent mode as that will maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting system.

From the Environmental Protection Agency I welcome to today's meeting, Dr. Tom Ryan, Dr. Michelle Minihan and Mr. Andy Fanning. I am sorry that we are not meeting under happier circumstances, as was the case when the meeting was scheduled.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons, or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I call Dr. Ryan to make his opening statement.

Dr. Tom Ryan

I thank the committee for inviting the EPA to assist, as appropriate, on the issues affecting the quality of water in Ireland, boil water notices nationally, and the recent boil water notice for parts of counties Dublin, Kildare and Meath, noting that there is now another evolving situation at the plant in question.

I am joined by my colleagues from the EPA's office of environmental enforcement, Dr. Michelle Minihan and Mr. Andy Fanning, who is a programme manager in the area.

The EPA is the drinking water quality regulator for public water supplies and works to ensure that drinking water supplied by Irish Water meets the standards of the drinking water regulations so that public water supplies are safe to drink. Local authorities are the regulators with responsibility for the drinking water quality of private water supplies, if I may make that distinction.

As the utility supplying public water, Irish Water is responsible for ensuring that public water supplies meet the standards of the drinking water regulations. Other suppliers including group water schemes and private suppliers are similarly responsible for the drinking water they provide.

The EPA's primary focus is to oversee Irish Water's response to drinking water quality failures. However the agency also requires Irish Water to take actions to prevent drinking water quality failures from happening in the first place and is working to ensure that investment is prioritised for those water supplies that pose the greatest risk to public health.

Irish Water must notify the EPA of any drinking water quality failures and the agency then oversees Irish Water’s investigation and their actions in response to the failure. As part of the agency's role in drinking water quality investigations, it may audit drinking water supplies and treatment processes, issue legal directions, take legal prosecutions in certain circumstances, or place a water supply on its remedial action list. The remedial action list was first prepared by the agency in January 2008 and is a dynamic list of public water supplies that the agency has identified as at risk and as priorities for remedial action by Irish Water.

I will briefly address some of the issues affecting the quality of drinking water in Ireland. In its most recent report on the quality of public drinking water supplied by Irish Water published in September this year, the EPA found that the overall quality of drinking water remains high, with 99.9% compliance with microbiological standards and 99.6% compliance with chemical parameters in 2018. While this indicates that the majority of public water supplies are safe, further measures are necessary to improve the security of our supplies and avoid long-term boil water notices into the future. The 2018 report set out a series of issues affecting the quality of the drinking water supplied by Irish Water that require action, namely, ensuring adequate disinfection of treated water, reducing the presence of trihalomethanes, THMs, in treated water, replacing of lead water mains and household pipes, eradicating persistent pesticide failures above the limit set out in the drinking water regulations, and establishing drinking water safety plans for supplies. These issues have been recognised for a number of years and the EPA has recommended that Irish Water take a strategic national approach to them to prevent further drinking water quality failures. The report also highlighted that cryptosporidium detections have increased in the past three years. It was detected in 25 public water supplies in 2018, up from 17 in 2017 and 12 in 2016.

Cryptosporidium is a parasite found in human or animal waste and, if present in drinking water, can cause persistent diarrhoea. Illness is often more severe in small children and elderly people and can be very serious in people who are immunocompromised. If cryptosporidium might be present in a supply, appropriate treatment processes, referred to as a "barrier", must be put in place. These barriers also serve to address certain other parasites, including giardia, which can give rise to similar illnesses, if consumed.

Adequate treatment is required at all water supplies where cryptosporidium has been identified as a risk. It is not enough to have a barrier in place; it must also be properly operated and maintained. At the end of 2018, the EPA’s remedial action list, RAL, included 15 supplies with inadequate treatment for cryptosporidium. The EPA will continue to monitor Irish Water’s progress towards ensuring that all supplies have an adequate barrier to cryptosporidium.

The issuing of a boil water notice is not a statutory function of the EPA but is done by Irish Water or a private water supplier in consultation and agreement with the HSE. As the environmental regulator of Irish Water, the EPA emphasises that there is a need for boil water notices and other water restrictions, in certain circumstances, to protect human health. During 2018, 44 boil water notices were in place in 14 counties, affecting more than 97,000 people. This is an increase compared to 2017, during which 42 boil notices were in place, affecting more than 21,000 people. The main reason for the increase in the number of people affected is that 65,000 people were on a boil water notice for three days in early 2018 when a disinfection failure occurred at the Vartry reservoir supply. More than 13,500 people were also affected by 12 precautionary boil water notices issued due to Storm Emma in March 2018.

It should be noted that a long-term boil water notice is one that is in place on a supply for longer than 30 days. Of the 44 boil water notices in place during 2018, 26 were short-term notices and were lifted within one month. Five were long-term notices that were in place for longer than one year.

I want to turn now to the recent boil water notice affecting parts of counties Dublin, Kildare and Meath. In addressing this, I acknowledge this is an evolving situation and, if the Chairman allows, I will say a few further words on the current issues at the conclusion of my statement.

Irish Water informed the EPA at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 22 October of a mechanical failure at Leixlip water treatment plant, which had occurred on Monday, 21 October. The EPA participated in a meeting between HSE and Irish Water on the afternoon of Tuesday, 22 October to assess the risk this incident posed to consumers. Irish Water and Fingal County Council, following consultation and agreement with the HSE, issued a boil water notice. The boil water notice was a preventative measure and was necessary to ensure that public health was protected and consumers were not at risk from cryptosporidium or giardia, the microscopic parasites that can cause illness.

On Thursday, 24 October, EPA inspectors conducted an audit at Leixlip water treatment plant. The purpose of the audit was to establish the full facts of the incident and the corrective actions taken. It was also to verify the performance of Leixlip water treatment plant and to assist in gathering the information to facilitate the lifting of the boil water notice. EPA inspectors also reviewed the recommendations of the agency's previous audit of 22 March 2019 and assessed the implementation of the actions taken to address those recommendations.

In the audit, the EPA inspectors found the incident began at 3 p.m. on Monday, 21 October, and ended at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, 22 October, when remedial works restored the affected production line. The water treatment plant appears to have operated satisfactorily between 5 a.m. on Tuesday, 22 October and the current issue emerging. There was sampling of treated water for cryptosporidium and giardia in the critical period before, during and after this incident. These samples indicated that the quality of water supplied following restoration of the production line was satisfactory. A blockage in the coagulant dosing line resulted in operational difficulties with the water treatment processes and gave rise to elevated turbidity levels in treated water. The elevated turbidity levels in treated water indicated a significant risk to the safety of the water supply because the treatment barrier for the removal of cryptosporidium and giardia was compromised and there was a risk of breakthrough of microscopic parasites into the water supply. There was a failure to respond to multiple alarms that activated in response to the elevated turbidity. Irish Water and Fingal County Council implemented automatic plant shutdown for the whole plant when turbidity alarms were not responded to within 15 minutes on 24 October 2019, the day of the audit.

While the Leixlip water treatment plant was resorted to a satisfactorily operating status following the incident, the level of treatment at this plant is not sufficient to manage the risk posed by the River Liffey source water, as further evidenced by the emerging situation. In particular, there is a deficit for treatment of parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia. Filter upgrade works are under way to reduce this deficit but will not be sufficient to confirm adequate treatment. In its October audit report, the EPA recommended that ultraviolet disinfection be considered by Irish Water as an additional treatment barrier to inactivate cryptosporidium and giardia at the Leixlip water treatment plant. As an ultimate failsafe, ultraviolet disinfection will inactivate any cryptosporidium and giardia parasite in the water supply to ensure the protection of public health.

The boil water notice in question was lifted by Irish Water at 4.30 p.m. following meetings on the afternoon of Friday, 25 October, between the HSE and Irish Water and between the HSE, Irish Water and the EPA. During an audit of the Leixlip water treatment plant in March 2019, the EPA highlighted the risk of this type of incident occurring, following a mechanical failure of a chemical dosing pump at the plant, and recommended that plant operators respond immediately to any alarm generated, and that if an operator failed to respond to an alarm, that Irish Water should ensure the plant automatically shuts down to prevent inadequately treated water being supplied to consumers. In May, in response to that audit, Irish Water confirmed the plant would automatically shut down when an operator failed to respond to an alarm. The EPA audit on 24 October found the automatic plant shutdown arrangement was implemented on one production line at the Leixlip water treatment plant in April 2019 and was only implemented on the remaining two production lines at the plant on the day of the audit. The EPA's report following the audit on Thursday, 24 October, was published on 30 October on the EPA's website.

As committee members are aware, there is an emerging issue at the water treatment plant in Leixlip and I will take this opportunity to advise the committee on the EPA's engagement on the issue at this point. Yesterday morning, 4 October, Irish Water advised the EPA there were operational issues at the plant over the weekend. On Sunday, 3 November, two out of three of the production lines at the Leixlip plant were shut down from 1 p.m. due to high turbidity levels in the raw water entering the plant, attributed to the very high rainfall experienced on Saturday, 2 November.

This shutdown had depleted the reserves of treated water in the reservoirs and distribution network served by Leixlip. Due to ongoing heavy rainfall yesterday, there continue to be issues with the quality of raw water entering the plant. The increase in turbidity in the filtered water gives rise to a risk of breakthrough of the parasites cryptosporidium and giardia into the water entering the distribution system.

A meeting was held yesterday afternoon between Irish Water, Fingal County Council, the HSE and the EPA. Following the meeting, Irish Water, in consultation with the HSE and having assessed the risk to public health, decided that a precautionary boil water notice was needed. The Leixlip plant returned to water production from all of its production lines yesterday evening to ensure the continuity of the water supply. Of course, it is vital that the supply be returned to safe production as soon as possible. The EPA will play its role in verifying that the plant is operating safely, which will include an audit of the plant. The appropriate time to audit will be when Irish Water and Fingal County Council are satisfied that the plant has returned to satisfactory performance. The EPA's role will be to verify that performance before the boil water notice can be lifted.

I assure the committee that the agency will continue to provide regulatory oversight. We are happy to answer whatever questions arise from our statement.

I thank Dr. Ryan. It is unfortunate that we are meeting in the midst of what is happening. When we scheduled this meeting, it was intended to review the previous boil water notice in the areas in question and the broader issue of water quality. I thank the EPA officials for attending during what is a busy time for them and the witnesses who will appear before us later. However, it is important that we scrutinise the issue and get answers today. With that in mind, our first questioner will be Senator Boyhan. Due to time constraints, I will keep members' contributions to three minutes apiece.

I will be well able to do this in three minutes.

I thank the EPA, Fingal County Council and Irish Water for attending. Their presence is important. I will stick to Dr. Ryan's opening statement, which we had the advantage of having supplied to us earlier. I will take him through three or four points.

This is a critical public health issue for people in areas served by this water supply. More important, it is an issue of public confidence in the water supply chain and all those involved therein. That is why we must deal with it. I do not want to speculate or comment on press coverage; rather, I will deal with the facts that Dr. Ryan has just put on the record. I draw his attention to page 2 of his statement, where he referred to auditing drinking waters and treatment processes and the EPA's capacity to issue legal directions and take legal prosecutions. What directions has it made and what prosecutions has it taken in respect of the Leixlip plant? He also referred to the EPA's remedial action list. How is that progressing? Will he make a copy available to the committee? It is important that we fully understand it and see who has designated responsibility for the relevant actions. He might also provide something charting the progress that has been made and the key people responsible for delivering the actions on the list.

Page 3 mentions replacing lead water mains and household pipes. It is not a major issue for discussion today, but by raising it, Dr. Ryan has put it into this meeting's domain. He might provide us at some future date with a progress report on the EPA's planned works for the changeover from lead water pipes.

Mention was made of cryptosporidium and related issues. I would hate to think there was cryptosporidium in any water supply. Dr. Ryan discussed the parasites that humans and animals can acquire from water. Can Dr. Ryan tell us that there is no cryptosporidium in any water supply? What affected water supplies does the EPA know of?

On the UV system, I am very familiar with it. I know from work I have done in relation to it how successful it is. In his opening statement, Dr. Ryan referenced a recommendation that an UV system be put in place. Did that happen? What was set in train? The EPA made the recommendation in regard to the UV system and the likely success of it in killing off cryptosporidium and other parasites, etc. Was there follow-up in regard to that recommendation? There is no point in making recommendations if they are not followed up. I ask Dr. Ryan to update the committee in that regard.

I thank the witnesses. They have been very helpful. If they cannot address any of the issues I have raised today, I ask that they would keep the committee apprised in regard to those matters.

I thank Senator Boyhan. I appreciate his assistance in keeping the proceedings on schedule. I invite Dr. Ryan to respond.

Dr. Tom Ryan

I thank Senator Boyhan for his questions. On what legal action we have taken against Irish Water in regard to the Leixlip plant and the current incident, our primary focus is that the plant is back in operation and producing safe drinking water. This is where all our focus and attention is at the moment. This is evidenced by us auditing the plant, issuing our report, issuing the recommendations and working with the stakeholders to ensure that the boil water notice could be appropriately lifted. There has not been a specific legal enforcement measure taken against the plant in regard to the incident. We would have to give careful consideration to whether that is appropriate or if we have the powers to do that. As I said, our primary focus is to ensure that the plant is back in operation and producing safe water for consumers.

On the remedial action list, we can make it available to the committee. We track and keep it up-to-date. It is very much part of our discussions with Irish Water. It is focused around directing investment in putting in place appropriate infrastructure in priority areas to ensure that drinking water quality is improved. It is important to mention that our reports in 2018 and previously show that the overall general quality of drinking water is very high, although, unfortunately, we have this very significant issue in front of us at the moment. We will make the remedial action list and the current situation in that regard available to the committee following this meeting.

Senator Boyhan also raised the issue of lead. We mentioned it as one of the priorities that we are tracking with Irish Water. We will also provide follow-up on that to the committee in due course.

With regard to the number of supplies that are currently at risk from cryptosporidium, we will make that list available as well. Approximately 16 supplies on the remedial action list specifically reference a problem with cryptosporidium.

The Senator also asked about the installation of a UV system. We have only just issued that recommendation to Irish Water. We have given it one month to respond to that recommendation. We understand that it would be a significant piece of infrastructure to install but we will await the response from Irish Water in that regard.

I thank Dr. Ryan and I remind him that he may lean on his colleagues for support in terms of responses. Senator Boyhan has indicated that he would like to come back in, but I propose to call members in the order in which they indicated, following which those who wish to come back in for a second round may do so. I have indicated the time constraints that we are all under such that we will all have to play to the same rules today. I call Deputy Darragh O'Brien.

I thank Dr. Ryan for his presentation. To put this in context, we are asking questions today on behalf of not only the 615,000 people who are affected by a second boil water notice in two weeks, which are the most significant ever in this country to my collection, but many thousands of other people. The witnesses are here to answer the public through our questions.

I have read the audit report of 24 October. Like Senator Boyhan, I would like to touch on the recommendation regarding UV treatment.

According to the EPA audit report, "the level of treatment at this plant [Leixlip] is not sufficient to manage the risk posed by the River Liffey source water". Dr. Ryan made that point again earlier. Was the March 2019 audit the first time the EPA made this point, or does it go way back to the 2008 report? While I acknowledge Dr. Ryan's clear statement that "the overall quality of drinking water remains high, with 99.9% compliance with microbiological standards", these two significant outages have significantly rocked people's confidence in the water supply. All witnesses must realise how angry, upset and concerned people are about this. I will deal with more of that when representatives of the Department, Irish Water and Fingal County Council are in attendance.

Dr. Ryan has mentioned a recommendation that was made recently. As far as I can see, it was made in March of this year. Was that the first time UV treatment was recommended? I am particularly concerned about the automatic shutdown now in place in Leixlip. It is to be welcomed. An automatic shutdown was recommended in March. According to Dr. Ryan's opening statement, in May of this year, the EPA received a response from Irish Water to the effect that "the automatic plant shutdown arrangement was implemented". He is now saying that it was partially implemented only. I ask him to comment on that. I know it is in place now. That is important.

As someone who is eminently qualified in this area and is certainly better qualified than me, will he explain what happens with the lag time when an issue is found? I invite any of his colleagues who wish to come in on this matter to do so. A couple of weeks ago, there was an outage following an incident that began at 3 p.m. on Monday, 21 October and ended at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, 22 October. It ran for 18 hours, in effect. The plant was shut down at 10.15 p.m. on the Monday night. Many people have told me that there is serious concern about contaminants getting into the system in the intervening period. I know that those involved need to sit down for a meeting. What happens in these circumstances? Is Dr. Ryan happy that boil water notices are issued as quickly as possible? That is the fundamental point. I am asking about the current outage as well as last month's outage.

Dr. Tom Ryan

I can confirm that March was the first time we raised the issue of UV disinfection. It is only in recent years that we have been tracking the deterioration with Irish Water through sampling and measurement. The number of giardia detections was one in 2015, one in 2016, two in 2017 and one in 2018, but there have been ten such detections so far this year. There has been a deterioration in the infrastructure treating the plant. We are now convinced that this is the right way to go. We mentioned it in March. We strongly recommended it in our October audit.

The Deputy asked about the recommendation that the plant should be shut down automatically. When we came back, we found it was implemented on one of the lines only. The audit finding was very much that the shutdown should apply to the entire plant. It is clear that this was misunderstood. This was remediated when we got back out there in October.

The Deputy also asked about the lag time. The current situation is evolving. We are satisfied that we have been notified promptly. We were involved in discussions yesterday on the implementation of the boil water notice.

The Deputy also asked about the issue that arose in October. Clearly, there was an operational difficulty that allowed a window of time to happen when remedial action could have been taken. Alarms were not responded to. It was not a normal or foreseen event. The alarm is usually raised when there are operational or mechanical difficulties. We are usually notified when there is an issue. It is clear that there was a period of time the plant was operating even though alarms were ringing.

That said, once we are notified, we get involved in conversations with the HSE and Irish Water. Public health is first and foremost in everybody's mind in that regard and, as such, the boil water notice was issued and precautionary measures, which I am sure will be addressed in detail by Irish Water, were taken, such as flushing out the system before the boil water notice is lifted. I hope that addresses the Deputy's queries.

I will come back in at a later stage.

I represent the constituency of Louth. I welcome the comments of the officials and I am conscious of the role of the EPA. I am tempted to say one does not miss the water until the well runs dry. I am a former schoolteacher and recall a child being asked to make a sentence using the word "uisce" and coming up with "Uisce inár saol: cosanta" or, in English, "Water in our environment: protect it". That is the premise we must start from. I was secretary of a group water scheme for 21 years and know the difficulties associated with large and small plants. Information is critical.

Dr. Ryan referred to 99% or 99.6% of water being of perfect drinking quality after treatment, which is good news. I am more concerned about whether the quality of water in our rivers and lakes is continuing to deteriorate, as I believe it is, and their role in that regard. It has been suggested that flooding caused the problem in the Leixlip plant. There has always been flooding. When the officials from Irish Water appear before the committee, I will deal with a similar situation involving Irish Water in County Louth, where people have been on a boil water notice for 105 days. Two reports issued by the EPA specifically deal with the Tallanstown group scheme. I am sorry to widen the discussion, but this issue does not just affect the 600,000 people impacted by the problem in Leixlip. It is just as important for the 600 people affected elsewhere or the 92,000 who were on boil water notices last year. As the EPA officials pointed out, that figure increased from 21,000 the previous year.

My first question relates to the quality of drinking water. Does the EPA have confidence that when it carries out an examination and reports to Irish Water and local authorities, those bodies take action on issues arising? My experience is that one can tell the bodies what needs to be done, but no action is being taken. I will deal with that at a later stage. How effective is the reporting of those bodies to the EPA regarding its recommendations?

One may think I am naive but that is not the case. I refer to two drinking water audit reports in my local authority area. It is alarming that it took 12 days for a boil water notice to be issued when the water was known to be contaminated. This issue is as important to the people I represent as the members who are concerned about the issues in Leixlip. I ask the officials to address that point. It goes back to the point raised by Senator Boyhan regarding action in terms of legal responsibility and the remedial action list. I would like the committee to be provided with that information. More important, I ask that the EPA officials meet representatives of each local authority and Irish Water twice a year to keep people informed. I was not informed by the EPA or Irish Water that the two reports to which I referred were available. They were not mentioned to me in my myriad communications on the matter or to any other public representative for County Louth. I am not blaming the officials for that, but I want to know how effective are their recommendations regarding what action is needed in the interests of protecting public water supplies.

The topic of today's discussion includes boil water notices nationwide. Although the majority of questions may relate to the current issues at the Leixlip plant, the Deputy is in order to ask questions on other such notices.

Dr. Tom Ryan

On the issue of general water quality in our rivers and lakes, I will defer to my colleague, Mr. Fanning.

Mr. Andy Fanning

On the issue of whether water quality in our rivers and lakes is declining or improving, the EPA has produced many reports in recent years. Our water quality in Ireland reports are produced on a three-yearly basis and we also produce an annual water indicators report.

We saw some improvements to about 2012 but they have been declining since. We expect the next three-year report will be out within the next quarter or two. We will have the overview then. We did and still do assist the Department in its river basin management planning, which looks at that work, and we provide the evidence on which it develops the plans for all the stakeholders to implement. There has been a decline in overall water quality in rivers and lakes over the last decade.

I refer to the question of our confidence in Irish Water following up on the actions we require of it. In our audit reports, we set out our recommendations. We give Irish Water a month to respond to us and we find that, as one would expect if there are number of recommendations, some of them will need to be dealt with immediately and some of them will take a certain amount of time and investment to be delivered. It provides us with a response to the audit recommendations and then we track that every quarter and we get a response from Irish Water on all open cases once every quarter. We track each of the individual actions that have been set out in our audit reports, and as they progress, if we find there is an unacceptable delay, we have the ability to go back out and issue a legal direction to it undertake to either provide us with the action plan for delivering on the action or to carry out the specific action within a specified time. We actively track that and we actively ensure the actions we seek are being undertaken. It is part of my work programme to do that on a continuous basis.

Dr. Tom Ryan

I might make a contribution on the issue of Tallanstown. I suggest we will give a full update on that to the committee on our return in the context of the information we are sending back on the remedial action list. It is quite specific and I would want to be accurate in giving the information to the Deputy.

I call Deputy Ó Broin and I apologise to him. Committee members should come first.

We are relaxed in the committee so that is not a problem. I have eight questions but first I want to put on the record that it is precisely on an occasion like this that the value of the Environmental Protection Agency is proven and I want to commend the witnesses on the audit reports, which are short, concise, clear and easy to understand for those of us who are not specialists. It gives us a fully independent view of the facts, and that is enormously valuable, both to us on the committee and to the members of the public.

Can the witnesses take us through what happens after the EPA issued the March-April 2019 report in some detail in terms of its engagement with Irish Water or with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government? Is there a mechanism for escalating that engagement if there is a feeling, as the months progress, that the recommendations are not being acted on in an appropriate timeframe? I am particularly keen to know if at any stage the Department is involved in that process if the EPA feels Irish Water is not responding properly.

If the eight recommendations outlined in the March-April report had been fully implemented before October, would it be the EPA's view that the October incident and subsequent boil water notice would have been avoided? That is an important question the public has a right to know the answer to. There has also been quite a lot of public debate about whether this is an operational issue, a management issue or an investment issue. I know it does not have to be one of those issues in particular or the other, but I would like to know, particularly with respect to the October event, now that the EPA has done that audit, whether it was primarily an operational issue or as Dr. Ryan seems to indicate in the opening remarks, might there be some investment upgrade issues there as well?

On the basis of the information we have about yesterday, there seems to be a different cause to what took place. Maybe the witnesses could compare, in as simple and non-technical language as possible, the October event and the November event, albeit the EPA has not done an audit yet for what took place yesterday. Can the witnesses give us a sense of that? One of the things I am confused about is that this plant has received considerable funding for significant upgrades. It was upgraded in the 1990s and there was an additional upgrade in 2014 of about €30 million or €40 million so there has been a little bit of a public debate about this being an old plant. Can the witnesses give us a sense of this? Is it that there is an older part and a newer part of the plant? Where are the problems? Again, I ask them to do so in as clear a manner as possible.

I am concerned by a bit in Dr. Ryan's opening statement. It seems to be a little bit different from the version I have. On page 6, it says: "the Leixlip Water Treatment plant is now operating satisfactorily."

However, the opening statement then goes on to say there is a deficit for treatment of parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia. Dr. Ryan went on to say that there are upgrade works under way but when they are completed, if I understood him right, those works will not be sufficient to address the problem. Can we have more information on that and what would be required in terms of works and their possible cost to ensure the public would have confidence that these kind of issues are not going to be repeated?

Dr. Tom Ryan

There was a series of quite technical questions in there. I am going to ask Dr. Minihan to address as many as she can. We will then come back and pick up on any of the other overarching questions.

Dr. Michelle Minihan

If I might begin by addressing the Deputy's question about the follow-up on the March audit, the EPA did follow up on the audit. We received a response from Irish Water on 3 May which set out the actions it had taken to address each of the recommendations in our March audit report. As part of that, we are continuously tracking Irish Water's implementation of our audit recommendations via an open investigation file, which an inspector continuously monitors. In that response, Irish Water committed to completing certain works by specified dates. We tracked the progress of those works and we have been concerned with slippage identified by Irish Water. For example, in the response of 3 May to the March audit, the filters were due to be upgraded by quarter 4 of 2019, the end of this year. That has now slipped to quarter 2 of 2020. We have continued to monitor and engage with Irish Water to address that slippage and engage continuously to see what the problems are around it.

If I could come back to the Deputy's question about how there seems to be a difference between the October event and that of yesterday, he is correct. October's event was a blockage in a chemical dosing line which meant the water was not being treated correctly for a period. There was also a period in which alarms were activated and not responded to. I think the Deputy's question related to whether, if our audit recommendations from March had been put in place, the October event could have been avoided. Our October audit report clearly called out that if the automatic shut-down had been put in place across the entire plant as was recommended in the March audit report, we believe the incident itself would have been avoided in October. That action, the automatic shut-down of the plant, is the fail-safe which ensures that whatever happens, if an alarm is not responded to the plant is shut down and cannot produce water that is possibly unsafe or contaminated.

Dr. Tom Ryan

On the bigger question of whether this is a managerial issue, an infrastructural issue or an investment issue, we are still working through that but there are elements of all three, as the Deputy can see clearly in what is emerging.

I live in Leixlip and we have always had our water supplied by the Fingal treatment plant. It has been expanded to provide water to other locations in recent years as it has been augmented. I do not remember there ever being a boil water notice at that plant. This is the first time and it has happened twice in a few weeks. What is different about Leixlip in terms of the Liffey is that while Poulaphouca is supplied closer to the source, Leixlip takes its intake further downstream. Upstream to that there are sewage treatments plants and pumping stations. We have become accustomed to keeping an eye on the river and if there is a grey look about it we would be concerned. Was there an issue in respect of the intake? One reason that was given was the very heavy fall of rain, which is not unique as I think we will all accept. What is the nature of this discolouring? Is it internal or external?

Is it correct that there are three production lines, one of which is old and two of which are new? Was the plant designed to allow them to be separated, or can that be done? Why is the output of the entire plant, both the new and the old sections, contaminated?

Finally, I refer to the spillage upstream at Osberstown wastewater treatment plant in March. It might have been caused by one of the pumping stations. Are there holding tanks at the pumping stations in case of failures, as opposed to at the treatment plant? The volume of that spillage, 12,300 cu. m, translates to something in the region of 600 lorry-loads. It was huge. What is the additional dosage when that happens, and what is the communication between the two plants like?

I thank the Deputy. She asked lots of questions in two and a half minutes. She should visit more often.

Dr. Tom Ryan

I thank the Deputy for the questions. I will divide them if the Chairman does not mind. It has been reported to us that the heavy rainfall has caused a turbidity issue with the water from which the plant has been abstracting during this incident. We have not carried out our audit yet, but we will be going to the site in the next couple of days to fully assess the issues. Irish Water and Fingal County Council will be able to provide chapter and verse on the plant itself. Perhaps Dr. Minihan can provide a precis.

Dr. Michelle Minihan

The Deputy asked about the plant and the make-up of the three production lines. The committee will be aware that the Paterson Candy plant was completed in 1974 and upgraded in the 1990s. The Mahon and McPhillips plant was completed in 1988. They make up what is referred to as the "old plant" at Leixlip wastewater treatment plant. The new plant, which is referred to by Irish Water as the "AECOM plant", was completed in 2014. That is the distinction between the old plant and new plant. The Deputy asked if it was possible to separate output from the old and new plants. Separate streams come out, but the treated water is combined into one flow of treated water as it leaves the plant. One of the questions discussed at the time of the first boil water notices was whether we could definitively tell where water from the PCI plant was going. Because that water is all blended, with water from the old plant and the new plant leaving Leixlip and feeding the network as a single flow of water, it is not possible to do that.

I thank Dr. Minihan.

Mr. Andy Fanning

Deputy Murphy asked about pumping stations. The committee will be aware that a sewer is a pipe of a certain diameter and it can fill up. If there is no separation between rainwater and the sewage flowing through the pipe, capacity can be exceeded and there can be a combined sewer overflow. In many cases, this overflow reaches rivers and waterways. It tends to be more diluted than raw sewage because of water flowing through the pipe. Part of our March audit examined these issues. Our audit report included a specific recommendation for Irish Water to draw up a documented protocol for communication between Osberstown and Leixlip wastewater treatment plants so that operators would be alerted if there was an issue. That is what happened. My understanding is that the protocol is now in place if overflows occur. It is absolutely true that if water is taken from a lowland location at the back end of a catchment close to the sea, it is more likely to contain material from agriculture, industry and towns and villages.

I thank Mr. Fanning. Now it is my turn. I will begin with the deficit we now have. Witnesses have described it as effectively constituting an ongoing deficit. Even with the completion of the upgrade works, there will still be a deficit. In Dr. Minihan's view, are the current outages a hangover from the previous round of outages?

Dr. Michelle Minihan

The fact that the filters in the old plant need to be refurbished indicates that additional treatment is required there. A plan is in place to replace each of the 12 filters but they can only be replaced two at a time if we are to allow the plant to continue to produce water. The timeline for their refurbishment has slipped to quarter 2 of 2020 and there will be a treatment deficit until their refurbishment, in terms of the quality of raw water extracted from the River Liffey as compared to the requirements. Our audit report included the recommendation to install ultraviolet disinfection at Leixlip water treatment plant as this would provide assurance for a water supply that serves over 600,000 people.

I noted that recommendation in the October report. How long will it take to implement such a measure? People are concerned about the current outage and would like some reassurance over the suggestions that it will be ongoing until quarter 2 of 2020. When could an ultraviolet programme be put in place?

Dr. Michelle Minihan

Unfortunately, I do not have a date. Irish Water received the audit report on 30 October and it has a month to respond. This month will give Irish Water the opportunity to assess what additional treatment it plans to put in place and what the feasibility of ultraviolet disinfection is, as well as a timeline. Once we receive a response, we will consider it and determine whether any timeframe is appropriate.

We will put that question to our next guests, who are from Irish Water. Is Dr. Ryan disappointed at the fact that the March-April audit recommendations were not implemented fully? He referred to it as a misunderstanding. How could such a misunderstanding have arisen?

Dr. Tom Ryan

Our inspectors talked this through with Irish Water in the second audit. We are satisfied that it was a misunderstanding. We are disappointed because our recommendation was for a fail-safe shutdown of all of the plant, which clearly did not happen. Irish Water has now taken remedial action and an automatic shutdown is in place as of 24 October.

In his response to my earlier question about litigation, Dr. Ryan said the EPA may order the treatment of water supplies, issue legal directions and take legal prosecutions. He said no legal enforcement may be required. He went into the history of it a bit and said he had doubts about the powers in respect of taking such action. I am a bit concerned by this. Dr. Ryan is telling us that he has doubts about the EPA's powers to take a prosecution. In the case of the Leixlip plant, he said no legal prosecution has ever taken place on this particular issue. That is a major concern to me and to the public. Can he clarify whether I misunderstand or am misquoting from what Dr. Ryan said? If he has such doubts, can he share them with the committee today?

Dr. Tom Ryan

As I said, our primary responsibility is to make sure the plant is up and running and water supplies of safe drinking quality are returned to the more than 600,000 people who are affected. That is our primary focus. Whatever powers and authority we have, we deploy to that end and we will continue to do that in the current situation.

The Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement powers under the drinking water regulations are limited but we engage with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on the legislation governing drinking water. The EPA would welcome the strengthening of its enforcement powers in this regard.

That is interesting.

I thank Dr. Ryan for that response. I will bring in the members first, beginning with Deputy Darragh O'Brien.

I will be brief. I want to focus on what will happen now because I am conscious we are asking these questions while people do not have access to safe drinking water. What, if anything, would the EPA do differently in the process? Dr. Ryan mentioned his disappointment at the initial audit and recommendations not being implemented. The EPA will do another audit in a few days when this issue has been addressed. What will the EPA do differently to ensure any further recommendations it makes, even if they are the same as those that were made in March and October, will be implemented? Is it the EPA's job to do that?

I wish to ask Dr. Minihan in particular about filter replacement and ultraviolet, UV, treatment of the water plant. As an expert in this field, what timeline does she envisage there should be for the installation of UV treatment of a plant such as this one? My main concern is that if this issue is rectified in the next few days, given that this is early in the winter and with winter storms approaching and more heavy rainfall, we could be back here discussing this issue in two or three weeks. Confidence in the quality of our water supply has taken a hammering in recent days. We want to ensure people realise their drinking water supply is safe and can be used. From the EPA's quasi-independent perspective of the process - it is not Fingal County Council, Irish Water or the Department - what should that timeline be?

What is the nature of the report the Minister apparently has asked the EPA to do separately? I note from the Department's opening statement that the Minister has instructed the EPA to give him a special report on what has happened. What will be in that report and will it be made public?

Dr. Tom Ryan

Dr. Minihan and I will address those questions. To be clear on the next steps, this is an ongoing issue and there is a boil water notice in place. When we carry out another audit, it will be directly focused on getting the evidence to facilitate the lifting of that boil water notice. That is the next immediate action from us. We will do that, as I said in my statement, at a particular point. The plant has to come back up to operating at what Irish Water would characterise as a satisfactory performance. Our job will be to verify that performance.

The reason I asked that question is to enable members of the general public who are following these proceedings to get a proper handle on what that would look like. What is that?

Dr. Tom Ryan

My colleagues will go on site, sit down with management and go through what happened. We will look at the results of sampling and we will take a considered view. The open issues from the audits in March and October will be keenly tracked by my team to ensure their implementation. That is an ongoing process.

Regarding the installation of ultraviolet treatment of the plant, I am not sure how much we can say about timelines at this stage.

Dr. Michelle Minihan

Unfortunately, I cannot be specific on timelines. The reason for that is that the size of the UV facility that will be required at Leixlip is significant. As it is a significant piece of infrastructure and investment, it will need time to be physically be put on site, installed and verified to enure it is operating. That is because the volume of water treatment at Leixlip is so significant.

I appreciate that. I might ask the other witnesses about that.

Dr. Tom Ryan

On the final issue the Deputy raised concerning the report to the Minister, central to it is that the Minister is keenly interested to know what happened in the previous incident. We have an evolving situation and it will probably expand a little.

The Minister has requested that we bring to his attention the issues generally concerning water quality in Ireland and the rate of pace of infrastructural development. We will also take the opportunity to bring to his attention any deficiencies we see in terms of enforcement powers, as we have been doing with the Department for some time.

I have a couple of follow-up questions to those I asked in the first round and some new ones. To go back to what happened between March and October, in the regular engagement with Irish Water is there any engagement with or notification of the Department in particular, for example, if a concern arises over slippage of the original deadlines that are given in the Irish Water report? Is the Department informed throughout the process or does it learn with the rest of us when a boil water notice is issued?

In terms of slippage, I think I am correct in saying five of the eight recommendations were not implemented between March and October. How many of those were subject to slippage and could the witnesses elaborate a little more on that?

I am also keen to understand if the problems we are talking about are confined to the older part of the plant, notwithstanding the fact that the supply is all ultimately mixed, or if there are problems with the plant that was upgraded in the 1990s and the new plant in 2014? I would welcome if the witnesses could separate out that.

I would welcome a little more information from Dr. Ryan on the previous question I asked on whether, even if all the works that are currently within the capital programme are completed, there still are additional difficulties he would like to see addressed. Is that the ultraviolet filter or are other works required?

The witnesses can correct me if I am wrong but while the EPA did not recommend the ultraviolet filter in the March report, it recommended it in the October report. Is there a reason for that? Is it something the EPA had raised previously with Irish Water and Fingal County Council? I would welcome a bit more information on that too.

Dr. Michelle Minihan

A number of questions were asked and I will begin with the engagement with the Department. At the end of each quarter, we publish our remedial action list that sets out the priority supplies we have identified for action and investment by Irish Water. That sets out the completion dates by which the works on those supplies will be completed. We then engage with the Department regularly post the publication of our remedial action list. It is available on our website each quarter and we provide regular updates as part of that to identify where there is slippage. There is ongoing and regular engagement with the Department.

So the slippage is not a surprise. The Department is made aware of it continuously throughout the process.

Dr. Michelle Minihan

That is absolutely correct. We also take the opportunity to call out slippage where it might be significant when we publish our annual report.

When was the report last published?

Dr. Michelle Minihan

It was published on 10 September this year.

So the EPA would have called out the slippages that we are talking about here in relation to Leixlip in September.

Dr. Michelle Minihan

We would have called out slippage in general, and Leixlip is part of that.

I will move to Deputy Ó Broin's question on the audit recommendations, five of which were not implemented. His question was manifold. Some of the recommendations relate specifically to the old plant but a number relate to the plant as a whole. The key recommendation that Irish Water should ensure that there is automatic switchover between the duty and standby polyelectrolyte dosing pumps had not happened. Another was that operators respond to the alarms. As we noted earlier, the automatic shut-off in the event of operators failing to respond to alarms was implemented only in the new plant, which was where the March issue arose, and not extended to all the plant. Our recommendation clearly called out the need for it to be across the plant. However, as Dr. Ryan indicated, we do not believe that was deliberate but rather was a misinterpretation.

The other actions relate to the plant as a whole and have seen slippage. Our audit report of October asked Irish Water to reconsider the dates by which those works would be undertaken and, as we have already indicated, a response is awaited on that.

We should be looking for a solution rather than seeking a prosecution. Senator Boyhan outlined that the EPA has legal power but it needs to be strengthened. Has the EPA reviewed all of the audits across the country, or will it do so?

It is clear that in the case of Leixlip, but also that of County Louth, the actions recommended, not just in one report but two, have not been implemented. Will the witnesses undertake to review those reports with a view to putting them on the remedial action list, if necessary?

Dr. Minihan said the remedial action list is published on the website. We have a communication problem here. The witnesses may say we should be able to look at the website but all public representatives, at national, regional and county levels, need to be supplied with the reports and met twice per year. Will they commit to this? Publishing on the website is not sufficient. Irish Water does not inform anybody about what is in the reports. It is said that it is up to us to have the competence to read them but if the witnesses asked everybody in this room about them, they would note that nobody was aware of the remedial action list until this morning, although it is available on the website.

For the record, the EPA supplies its annual report to this committee as a matter of course. It presents it to this committee and has done so for three years.

Locally and regionally. The Deputy is from Dublin.

I fully support the point the Deputy is making. He said nobody in this room knows about the list but all I am saying, in deference to the EPA, is that at our request three years ago, it circulated the reports to the committee because we have responsibility. Its representatives come in and take questions, following which Irish Water representatives come in and take questions. I do not disagree with the Deputy's point but wish to make clear that the EPA engages with this committee highly effectively on foot of our request three years ago.

That is both noted and appreciated.

Deputy Lahart, a substitute member today, is next. He has one minute.

I will be brief. I have three questions. May I put them and get answers?

What conversations did the EPA have with Irish Water, particularly after the events of yesterday?

Dr. Tom Ryan

We are dealing with an incident at the moment. Our senior inspectors will be in constant contact with Irish Water and we will be on site to meet the management of the plant and representatives of Irish Water in the coming days.

Given an incident has happened so quickly after the original one, is there even a wringing of hands? What is the first conversation the EPA had with Irish Water?

Dr. Tom Ryan

In the general routine business, we meet senior management periodically to discuss ongoing issues. Certainly, this will be at the top of the agenda in any future conversation.

What will the EPA say to them?

Dr. Tom Ryan

We will discuss the incident. This concerns critical infrastructure servicing hundreds of thousands of people and providing them with safe drinking water. It is completely unacceptable that issues at the plant could lead to a boil water notice. The resilience of the plant needs to be addressed. As we have recommended, there needs to be a full risk assessment at this plant. We will be making that point very strongly.

We will proceed to the Deputy's last question. He said he had three.

My last question was a repeat of the first.

I am afraid that will not work.

What if Irish Water does not respond adequately regarding the very recent previous incident, which has just been repeated? It clearly has not done so. Even the National Transport Authority fines bus companies if they do not meet the demands and requirements of their contracts. The second aspect of that question is that Irish Water informed the EPA at 11 a.m. on the Tuesday but the incident began at 3 p.m. on the Monday. Does Dr. Ryan have anything to say about that?

Dr. Tom Ryan

Failure to implement the audit recommendations is not acceptable to the EPA. That is clear. We all want the same outcome, which is to return the plant to producing safe drinking water but if nothing happens or changes, we would consider additional enforcement actions within the constraints of the legislation and our authority under it. We discussed that a few moments ago. We would welcome a strengthening of our enforcement powers in that regard.

What was the second question?

It was on the timing.

Dr. Michelle Minihan

On the timeliness question, Irish Water is required to notify us by 11 a.m. on the day following an incident, and it did so in a timely manner. We are satisfied with the timeliness following the October incident. It has to gather a certain amount of information to be able to have an informed discussion with us and the HSE, and in order that we can fully understand the risk and consider what actions need to be taken to mitigate the risk and to address what has happened at the plant.

I have little or no faith in the EPA following a previous incident in Kerdiffstown about which it had been warned on numerous occasions and that has since cost the State €21 million. A certain amount of cryptosporidium will be in the water, having come from the plant, because it is not possible to get rid of it all. Is the EPA satisfied with the range of levels of contamination that has been set?

Does the EPA do any testing of the water that comes into the plant before it is treated? I ask because one of the largest treatment plants in the country is upstream of the Osberstown treatment plant, which might have an impact.

Am I correct that the plant in Leixlip is self-regulatory? I mean that Irish Water controls the plant and the EPA does not post people there on a permanent basis. Is the EPA happy with that or does it believe it should have someone on-site at all times?

Dr. Tom Ryan

I would not describe the plant as self-regulatory. At our licensed facilities, we do not have people on-site all the time. We do not generally consider it to be appropriate. In a risk-based approach, it would not be the appropriate use of resources. We regulate and audit when it is necessary to audit. We are on-site when issues arise.

Does the EPA audit when something happens or does it do so regularly?

Dr. Tom Ryan

It is generally reactive auditing, when there is an incident-----

That is not proactive.

Dr. Tom Ryan

In general, it is reactive auditing for the types of plants in question.

Dr. Michelle Minihan

There was a question of whether we are happy with the levels of cryptosporidium. We are not happy with the levels but we recognise that it occurs where raw water is abstracted from a source such as the River Liffey that has the potential to be contaminated with cryptosporidium, giardia or other parasites. That is why our other report recommended the need for ultraviolet disinfection at Leixlip water treatment plant. Ultraviolet disinfection will deactivate the cryptosporidium or render them harmless, meaning they will not be able to cause people to become ill. The recommendation was made in our audit report of 30 October.

Will certain tolerable levels of cryptosporidium be in the water in any case?

Dr. Michelle Minihan

As part of ongoing monitoring at Leixlip, in recent years there have sporadic detections of cryptosporidium and giardia in the treated water. In 2019, however, there has been a significant increase in those detections in the treated water. Such low-level detections, amounting to one cyst in approximately 1,300 l of water, have been the subject of ongoing consultation between Irish Water and the HSE in respect of the risk to public health. Enhanced sampling of treated water has been put in place at Leixlip water treatment plant as a result of the detections.

I am conscious that we are running late so I will not ask questions that have been asked. A related issue on this water line occurred in Kilcloon last year when there was an excess of chlorine and an EPA report followed that. Are our guests confident that issue in the Boyne water network has been followed up and dealt with?

I am not sure they can comment on another issue of interest to me. I raised this in the Dáil just before the original boil notice was lifted. The Minister seemed to be aware that certain things that were meant to have been done last September were not done. He said he was waiting for the report and that we would then know if certain things were done. Was that spoken about in the past few months? Was there an awareness of failings in the system among the interested parties?

Would Dr. Ryan like to answer?

Dr. Tom Ryan

Ms Minihan might wish to answer on this specific issue.

Dr. Michelle Minihan

I will address the issue at Kilcloon to which the Deputy referred. I live in Kilcloon, County Meath, so I was keenly watching that incident. We carried out an audit in response to the incident of chlorine overdosing there. Actions were taken to address the findings of that audit and the recommendations have been addressed. We will provide a written update to the Deputy on that as a matter of course.

I asked whether there will be a review of all of the audits that were not acted upon across the country. That question was not answered.

The Deputy has made his point clearly. Our guests can answer the question.

Dr. Tom Ryan

I assure the Deputy and the committee that my team and I take all of these audits very seriously. Recommendations that are made are tracked on an open tracking system within the team. They are followed up until we are satisfied they are closed out. I assure the Deputy that we are taking these matters very seriously.

I have a few questions to close. I thank our guests, and our upcoming guests, for their forbearance and time. It is appreciated at this vital moment.

Focusing on the timeline for the current issue and the restoration of normal service, is it correct that there was a high level meeting yesterday or earlier today?

Dr. Michelle Minihan

There was no meeting today.

What is the latest, from Dr. Minihan's point of view, on restoration? My understanding is that a clock normally starts for testing that is carried out by the regulatory authority, in this case the HSE. Am I correct? Has that clock started yet and is there a timeline for restoration or a standing down of the boil water notice?

Dr. Michelle Minihan

I am open to correction on the exact facts and Irish Water may be able to provide clarification later on. The plant returned to production yesterday evening, as I understand, under the proviso that the boil water notice would be put in place to protect public health. There is regular sampling at Leixlip and that sampling equipment or rig is required to run for 24 hours. That went on yesterday and that sample will be available today. We will get through approximately 13,000 l of water. That sample will need to go to the laboratory and results will be awaited.

Following the return to production of the plant, given the raw water turbidity and the fact that there was a lot of rainfall yesterday and on Saturday, there will be a period of time for the filters to return to normal operating conditions. In our engagement with Irish Water and the HSE, we have stated that we intend to audit that plant. We would see that the time to audit that plant is when it has returned to normal operating conditions. We will await confirmation from Irish Water and Fingal County Council as to when that will happen. Irish Water are better positioned to answer the question about when the sample results will be available.

I thank Dr. Minihan. Who is responsible for implementing the recommendations on the operational side that were contained in the EPA's previous audit? Is that Fingal County Council or Irish Water?

Dr. Michelle Minihan

Irish Water, working with Fingal County Council, is responsible for the implementation of the recommendations.

The answer is both.

Dr. Michelle Minihan


In that case I will put the question to them both at our next session. I thank the witnesses very much for their time today. I echo what Deputy Ó Broin said in his opening remarks, namely, that the EPA has clearly shown its value as an organisation in terms of its annual reports to the committee and also in terms of its audit. I thank the EPA for its diligent work. I appreciate the time the witnesses have given to us today. We will suspend briefly before our next session.

Sitting suspended at 1.45 p.m. and resumed at 1.55 p.m.

We shall proceed to the second session on issues affecting the quality of water, boil water notices nationwide and the recent boil water notice affecting Dublin, Kildare and Meath.

From Irish Water, I welcome Mr. Niall Gleeson, Ms Katherine Walsh and Mr. Michael O'Leary; from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh and Mr. David Flynn; and from Fingal County Council, Ms AnnMarie Farrelly and Mr. John Daly. I congratulate Ms Farrelly on her recent elevation.

I draw our guests' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If, however, they are directed to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. Gleeson to make his opening statement.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

My name is Niall Gleeson and I am the managing director of Irish Water. I am accompanied today by Michael O’Leary, head of asset operations, and Katherine Walshe, head of environmental regulation. I thank the Chairman, Deputy Rock, and the committee members for the opportunity to address them.

I apologise to affected customers for the inconvenience caused by both the previous and the current boil water notices. I welcome the opportunity to explain to the committee how the events happened, what actions we have taken and how we, along with our colleagues in Fingal County Council, intend to mitigate the risk of such events happening in future. As the committee heard from the EPA, there are two plants in Leixlip, an old plant and a new plant. As discussed, we have had problems with the old plant and are currently upgrading it. It is where the problem occurred at the weekend. The prolonged heavy rain on Saturday night presented issues with turbidity, or cloudiness, and the old plant could not treat the water to the required standard. In fairness to the plant operators, on this occasion they reacted quickly. They saw the alarms, kicked in and shut down the plant, preventing untreated water from entering the system. They spent most of Sunday and Monday morning trying to return the old plant to service, using a wastewater discharge, which allows the plant to be run but to waste rather than into the system.

Unfortunately, this was not successful and our reservoirs throughout the city were running low. We had to make the decision that rather than have water restrictions, where people would not have had water for flushing toilets, showering or washing, we would reintroduce the water with whose treatment we were not happy, while at the same time issuing a boil water notice. It was a conscious decision taken over the weekend, and it is important to emphasise the difference between the incident in question and the previous incident. The Fingal County Council operators acted correctly and Irish Water took a decision to introduce the water I have described because the only other option was to introduce water restrictions.

To end the current boil water notice, as was discussed with the EPA, satisfactory water quality tests will be needed. The first sample was taken today and we will continue in that regard during the week. On EPA confirmation that the plant is operating satisfactorily, unfortunately the plant is still not delivering the levels of treated water we would like. It is still delivering cloudiness outside the limits set by the EPA and us, which is unfortunate but we are working as hard as possible to correct the problem. It is not a plant failure or the result of a particular incident rather it concerns the filter beds we are currently trying to refurbish. As soon as we are happy that the water entering the system is of good quality, we can start the clock and flush the slug of water through the system. That is the current position.

Irish Water has a comprehensive compliance monitoring programme in place for every public water supply in the country to ensure that drinking water quality is adequately monitored and complies with legislation.

Since Irish Water was established in 2014, we have significantly improved water quality monitoring on public drinking water supplies. More rigorous sampling regimes have been put in place, for example the number of tests for cryptosporidium and giardia doubled from approximately 800 in 2014 to more than 1,500 in 2018.

The EPA and HSE, who have responsibility for regulating drinking water quality and protecting public health respectively, now have a single point of contact for all water quality issues nationally. Water quality risks and failures are identified sooner, corrective action can be taken quickly, and the risk to public health from poor water quality has been reduced significantly. Of course, we have more work to do in this area.

The quality of public drinking water in Ireland remains high with microbiological compliance at 99.87% and chemical compliance at 99.63%, as outlined in the 2018 EPA drinking water quality report.

All drinking water must be treated before being consumed to remove biological and chemical contaminants that can be harmful to human health. Bacteria from animal or human waste and parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia are commonly found in open water bodies such as the River Liffey. These organisms can cause gastrointestinal illness in humans.

Following consultation with the HSE, a boil water notice is imposed where water treatment may be inadequate to eliminate the risk of illness from microbiological contamination. There are currently 17 boil water notices in place nationally impacting on approximately 14,000 people. The largest is on Lough Talt in Sligo, affecting 12,500 people, where there is a risk of cryptosporidium contamination. The majority of the other boil water notices relate to areas where treated water requires additional disinfection contact time, a problem identified through Irish Water’s national disinfection programme. Due to work under way by Irish Water, four of the 17 notices are on track to be lifted this year, with most of the others, including Lough Talt, on track to be lifted in 2020.

The greater Dublin area, GDA, drinking water supply serves all of Dublin and parts of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. Drinking water in the GDA is supplied from a number of sources, predominantly the River Liffey, which accounts for 85% of the supply to Dublin, and the River Vartry. Water is produced in Dublin on a 24-hour basis and the total water production capacity is 612 megalitres per day, which can reduce to 580 megalitres due to weather, drought or algal blooms, for example. Demand for water in the GDA varies but the average daily demand is 570 megalitres per day, increasing to 600 megalitres per day at times of high demand. Headroom or spare capacity in available water in Dublin is, therefore, between 10 and 40 megalitres per day. That is important in the context of the old plant, which is having problems and which produces in the region of 20% of Dublin's water supply.

Leixlip water treatment plant, WTP, is the second largest water treatment plant in Ireland; the largest is at Ballymore Eustace. Leixlip WTP supplies treated drinking water to more than 600,000 people in Dublin, Kildare and Meath, approximately one third of the greater Dublin area, including healthcare facilities, industry and many large commercial customers. Leixlip WTP is operated by Fingal County Council under a service level agreement with Irish Water.

Leixlip WTP currently produces 195 megalitres per day of treated drinking water, with a maximum production of 210 megalitres per day. Due to the phased expansion of Leixlip WTP since it first opened in 1967, current operations on the site are carried out across a number of plants known as the old plant, built by PCI in the 1970s and upgraded by McMahon Philips in the 1990s, and the new plant, built by AECOM in 2014. These are separate plants and there is not a continuous upgrade process on the old plant. The old plant produces two thirds of the water at Leixlip.

In 2019, there have been ten low level detections of giardia and one detection of cryptosporidium in treated water at Leixlip. These test results were reported to the EPA and the HSE and not deemed to be an immediate risk to public health. Given the detections, in consultation with HSE, Irish Water doubled its monitoring programme for cryptosporidium and giardia at the plant in 2019.

We have also taken special interest in the operation of the filter beds in the old plant because if the filter beds are not meeting the levels required and there are instances of giardia, there are increased concerns. We are currently upgrading the filter beds in the old plant and ideally we would take the plant out of service for a six-month or 12-month period to complete all the works and bring it back into service thereafter.

Ideally we would take this plant out of service for a period of six to 12 months, complete all the works and then bring it back into service. However, because it supplies 20% of Dublin's water and because we cannot switch it off as we do not have any backup supplies, we have to do this work on an ongoing basis. The plant needs to remain operational at all times. This is akin to trying to change the tyres on a car while it is moving down the road. It is a very difficult process and has led to some delays, which the EPA highlighted.

In March 2019, there was a mechanical failure of a chemical dosing pump at the new plant. An on-site alarm was triggered but was not responded to. The incident was reported at the time to the EPA and the HSE, which did not consider the failure to be a risk to public health. Water produced remained safe. The EPA conducted an audit of the new plant on 22 March. Following recommendations made by the EPA in its March audit, the automatic shutdown requested by it was completed in the new plant. A contract was issued to install automatic shutdown at the old plant but this work had not been completed when the incident occurred on 22 October.

On Monday 21 October, a mechanical failure occurred on a piece of equipment at the old plant at Leixlip. I will describe the events in more detail. At 3.15 p.m. a blockage occurred in a chemical delivery line leading to a failure of a pressure-release valve. No pump alarm activated as the failure point was downstream of the pumps. At 5 p.m., turbidity levels in filtered water started to increase as a result of the delivery line failure. Turbidity is cloudiness in water due to suspended particles. At 6.16 p.m., increasing turbidity in filtered water triggered an on-site alarm and sent an SMS text alert to the operators. The alarm was not responded to and turbidity continued to rise. At 7.07 p.m. an on-site high-turbidity alarm was activated on the clarified water. The alarm was not responded to and turbidity continued to rise. At 9.15 p.m., an off-site plant manager who had logged on remotely to the Leixlip plant noticed the activation of turbidity alarms and the lack of response on site. The alarm was investigated and a contractor was called to clear the pipe blockage and carry out temporary repairs. From 10.15 p.m. to 11.30 p.m., the repair was completed. A decision was taken to shut down the old plant temporarily to allow the treatment process to stabilise. Between 11.30 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Tuesday, 22 October, the old plant was gradually brought back into operation. The automatic plant shutdown did not happen when the alarms were not responded to because we had not yet put this facility in place.

The new plant at Leixlip continued to produce drinking water that met all drinking water quality standards while the incident was ongoing at the old plant. However as the drinking water produced at both plants is mixed when it enters the network, all areas supplied by the Leixlip plant were subject to the boil water notice. Irish Water was first notified of the incident at the old plant by Fingal County Council at 9.45 a.m. on Tuesday, 22 October. We immediately contacted the HSE and EPA. We were in discussions with them throughout the day sharing data, reviewing the plant performance data and determining the level of risk to public health arising from the incident. Following the consultation, a decision was taken at 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 22 October to impose a boil water notice on customers supplied by Leixlip wastewater treatment plant. The Irish Water crisis management team, which was on standby, formally convened at 5 p.m. and the notification of customers began immediately. Irish Water's foremost priority throughout the period of the boil water notice was to protect public health and to advise all customers as quickly as possible. The first task of the team was to issue widespread communications with immediate effect. Given the number and geographic spread of customers affected, multiple communication channels were used, with emphasis on mass communication and prioritising proactive contact with vulnerable customers and large water users.

A press release with detailed advice and information and a map of the affected area was issued to national media in time for the 6 p.m. news on Tuesday, 22 October. This information was posted on our website and on social media channels and briefed to our customer contact centre. We directly contacted our registered vulnerable customers and an email went to elected representatives in the affected areas. We contacted large commercial and industrial customers and worked with stakeholders to identify critical users such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes and crèches. Engagement with customers, stakeholders and media continued through Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. A more detailed interactive map of the areas affected was posted on the website and shared widely. Further details of customer communications are provided in the appendix to my written statement. I thank the media, elected representatives, local authorities, business and industry groups, Departments and all who extensively and proactively shared our advice to customers while the boil water notice was in place.

Irish Water's website experienced difficulty on Tuesday, 22 October due to very high volumes of traffic to the site. Our IT teams worked throughout Tuesday evening to rectify the situation and, by Wednesday morning, the website was fully operational.

Our IT teams worked throughout Tuesday evening to rectify the situation and by Wednesday morning the website was fully operational. This was clearly not satisfactory and we are working to ensure that the site can cope with high volumes in future. During this more recent boil water notice, it has been able to handle the increased volumes.

On the lifting of the boil water notice, on Wednesday, 23 October Irish Water sought to identify clear criteria for lifting the boil water notice as quickly as possible while still ensuring no risk to public health. Lifting criteria agreed with the HSE and the EPA were as follows: satisfactory sample results for giardia and cryptosporidium; a satisfactory EPA audit of the old plant; and confirmation that all remaining at-risk water had passed through or was removed from the network. The result of the first sample covering the period of the incident was available on the morning of 24 October and water quality was satisfactory. Results of the second and third drinking water quality samples taken on 22 and 23 October were returned on Friday, 25 October and these samples were also satisfactory. The EPA inspectors carried out an audit of the Leixlip plant on Thursday, 24 October, accompanied by the HSE, Irish Water and Fingal County Council. Initial feedback from the EPA inspectors at the site indicated they were satisfied from a technical perspective that the boil water notice could be lifted. The final audit report from the EPA was issued on 30 October. On the network flushing side, Irish Water carried out extensive network modelling to work out how much of the water produced at Leixlip on 21 and 22 October was still in the network. Proactive flushing was carried out by Fingal County Council on Friday, 25 October to remove any remaining at-risk water from the extremities of the network. Irish Water continued discussions with the HSE and the EPA during Friday, 25 October to ensure all criteria agreed were met to allow the boil water notice to be lifted. The HSE confirmed at 4.30 p.m. that it was satisfied that the boil water notice could be lifted and this was communicated immediately and as widely as possible to all customers and stakeholders through all available communication channels.

The following immediate actions have been taken. Throughout the incident, Irish Water and senior Fingal County Council staff have been in contact with each other. The discussions are ongoing and we are trying to prevent the last and current incidents from happening again. The Leixlip water treatment plant is already staffed on a 24-hour basis and Irish Water has requested that Fingal County Council increase staffing at the plant to ensure an appropriate level of vigilance and eliminate the risk of an alarm not being responded to in future. Irish Water will work with Fingal County Council to agree more on-site presence by Irish Water staff at the Leixlip water treatment plant. Irish Water is looking at all potential enhancements to operations that will further safeguard water quality at Leixlip water treatment plant and all other large plants nationally. Automatic shut-off at the old plant is now operational. It is worth highlighting that automatic shut-off should be the option of last resort in a plant with 24-hour staffing as alarms should be responded to and a shut-off takes the plant completely out of production. Shutting down and restarting a water treatment plant brings its own risks and given Dublin’s lack of headroom, this could also present supply challenges which we are experiencing at the moment. Irish Water is in the process of bringing all critical alarms nationally into our national operations centre. For this to be beneficial, however, Irish Water needs to be able to contact plant operators directly when an alarm is triggered. This is not part of the current working arrangements. Irish Water is carrying out a review of the filter upgrade programme under way at the old plant to expedite its completion, bearing in mind the current water supply headroom challenges.

The recent incident at Leixlip caused significant disruption to customers and is not acceptable to Irish Water. That goes for the current incident as well. Our priority is to provide a safe, secure drinking water supply and we accept responsibility for this incident. We will continue to notify the EPA and HSE of any reportable incidents as soon as we are aware of them. We are working with Fingal County Council to take all necessary steps to reduce the risk of an incident like this happening again.

Irish Water is preparing a detailed written response to the issues raised by the EPA following its recent audit. At the time of the incident auto shut-off had been installed at the new plant and was in the process of being installed at the old plant. It should be reiterated that auto shut-off is an option of last resort. A plant of this size cannot be reliant on the sole response of individuals. The incident highlights the fact that we must use all available technology to prevent a failure like this happening in future. Under the current working arrangements this is not possible. Filter beds in the old plant are being upgraded.

This work started in 2018 and will be completed by the second quarter of next year. Any acceleration of this work must be balanced with the need to maintain sufficient water supply to the greater Dublin area.

Irish Water is fully committed to the Workplace Relations Commission process, initiated by the Minister and now under way, to replace the current service level agreements, SLAs, with local authorities with arrangements which will provide Irish Water with the necessary full control of operations, accountability and capacity to manage risk and provide a single identity for customer-facing services. Completing that process is likely to take some time and we believe that several operational issues must be addressed in the interim, under the current SLA, to reduce current risks to the provision of safe and reliable water services to our customers. I thank the committee members for their time. I will take any questions they wish to raise with me or my colleagues.

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

I would like to thank the Chairman and the committee for the invitation to today's meeting. I am joined by Mr. David Flynn, the water advisory unit's principal adviser. We are meeting in the light of a series of very significant and serious incidents in our water supply system. These boil water notices are a major disruption for people and businesses across a large part of our capital city and surrounding areas in Kildare and Meath.

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has expressed his deep concern regarding these incidents, particularly in light of the audit of the Leixlip facility carried out by the EPA following the first boil water notice. The lessons of the audit in March 2019 do not appear to have been learned. The cause of this weekend's incident is now under investigation by Irish Water's process engineers and Fingal County Council. Irish Water and Fingal County Council must fully co-operate and collaborate to deal comprehensively with the issues at Leixlip.

It is a matter for the EPA and the HSE as regulators and for Irish Water as the water utility, working with the local authority, to ensure that national standards are complied with. The priority in such an event is always to ensure that people's health is protected. Irish Water, the HSE and the EPA are all working together in their respective roles to ensure that notices are lifted as soon as water supplies are verified as safe to drink.

However, given the scale of the first boil water notice, the Minister has requested the EPA to provide a report on that incident directly to him once it has finished its own investigations. This report will outline the conclusions of the agency's investigation and any findings that may require a broader policy response. The Minister will consider this report once he has received it.

The Minister has also spoken directly with the managing director of Irish Water, the chief executive of Fingal County Council and the director general of the EPA to better understand how this situation is arising and to ensure that water quality issues are properly dealt with. The Minister will also meet the managing director of Irish Water and the CEO of Fingal County Council once he has received the EPA report to review any lessons learned from the incident.

Overall, the EPA reports that the quality of drinking water in Ireland’s public water supply remains high, as we have heard today. Our supply is safe but it is not yet sufficiently secure. There are risks to the quality and quantity of water supplied. These risks are associated with the nature and age of our infrastructure, as well as with the approach taken to the operation of our water supplies. Both our water and our wastewater systems require substantial and sustained investment in order to bring the systems up to the quality and resilience standards required of a modern service, to provide for population growth and to build resilience in the face of climate change. To support these aims, the Government has approved the Irish Water Strategic Funding Plan 2019-2024. This comprises €6.1 billion of investment in infrastructure and assets and €4.9 billion in operating costs.

Also critical to this improvement programme is the reform of water service delivery. Operating through service level agreements with 31 local authorities, Irish Water has responsibility for public water services but lacks direct or operational control for services on the ground. Without predetermining the outcome of investigations into the exact operational issues at Leixlip wastewater treatment plant, it is clear that there is a critical gap in control between Irish Water's legal responsibility for providing water services and local authorities' operational responsibility on the ground. This is not satisfactory and is no longer fit for purpose.

The Minister is therefore seeking an agreement that would replace the current service level agreements for the provision of water services with arrangements which provide Irish Water with the necessary control of operations, accountability and capacity to manage risk; ensure that Irish Water is not left without an appropriate skilled workforce to carry out its statutory functions and that local authorities are not left with stranded costs; and address workers' concerns about the future deployment of the current local authority water staff.

There has been engagement on these issues at the Workplace Relations Commission, most recently last Thursday.

However, in the light of this most recent incident it is important that all parties now engage with these issues with renewed determination. This is a challenging and complex process. However, the objective is to deliver a single national publicly owned utility that operates to the highest standards nationwide and that the full benefits of the one utility model are realised.

Ms AnnMarie Farrelly

I thank the committee for allowing me to address it. I am joined today by John Daly, director of services. Leixlip water treatment plant was initially constructed in 1967 and has been upgraded and expanded six times, most recently in 2014 when the capacity of the plant was extended from 168 million l to 207 million l per day. The treatment plant is a conventional plant for the treatment of river water, which involves coagulation, settlement, filtration, chlorination and fluoridation. It is made up of two sections which we refer to as the old and the new and the incident on 21 October occurred in the older installation.

Fingal County Council currently operates Leixlip water treatment under a service level agreement with Irish Water. Prior to the recent incidents, there has been no general boil water notice due to a failure of the Leixlip water treatment plant. Fingal County Council staff supported Irish Water and the EPA during the period of the first boil water notice, which assisted in the notice being lifted as early as possible. We are working with Irish Water to do likewise in respect of the current incident. The EPA audit report of 28 October describes the causes of the incident which occurred on 21 October.

From our analysis, the accumulation of debris commenced at approximately 3 p.m. Early indications of deterioration in water quality were identifiable between 5 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. By 6.15 p.m., the water quality was outside the normal operating limits for acceptable water quality and reached a critical level by 7.50 p.m. When the incident was identified at 9 p.m., prompt action was taken and the repair was effected by 11.30 p.m. Shut down of the system occurred at approximately 10.15 p.m. The EPA requirement for an automatic shutdown of the plant or individual elements of the plant or both was in place in the new section of the facility before the incident and was planned for the old section. Automatic shutdown has now been implemented throughout both treatment plants. This is a significant intervention, which will assist greatly in preventing any such future incidents. I am referring to the incident on 21 October.

In addition to the automation, Fingal County Council is in the process of further strengthening, monitoring and control at the plant since the incident, pending implementation of Irish Water's national control centre as follows: the supervised control and data acquisition, SCADA, computerised control system is being upgraded this week to require regular activation of operational controls by the duty operator to demonstrate response to all alarms; the critical alarms system will be upgraded to provide for automatic alerts in order that the on-call duty manager is notified quickly; the introduction of additional systematic monitoring and review of the SCADA system over the 24-hour period is being implemented and enhanced arrangements for plant supervision by the on-call duty manager are being implemented to support operations over the 24-hour period. In addition, critical incidents will be notified to Irish Water immediately and in this regard, the out-of-hours protocol with Irish Water has been reviewed, which will enhance the communications of incidents. The additional requirement to investigate the lining of the alum tank, which was the initial cause of the incident on 21 October, will be carried out by Fingal County Council as soon as possible and within a six-week period. This will require the tanks to be drawn down in sequence and examined. Following assessment, any capital investment will be identified to Irish Water for action. The matter of the failure to respond to alarms is the subject of an ongoing internal investigation.

It should be noted, however, that Fingal County Council views the optimal solution as being the implementation of the Irish Water's national control centre and we welcome the EPA recommendation that Leixlip be connected to the centre without delay. The completion of the new plant facilitated the implementation of a range of refurbishments and improvements to the older plant, which could not be progressed until the new plant was commissioned.

The following works were identified: upgrade of controls and a new SCADA system, which is now complete; rehabilitation of the filter channel, which is now complete; repairs and replacement of electrical equipment, which has commenced and is ongoing and automated chlorine dosing, which is now complete. Other works identified were automated back wash sequencing, which is now in place; PH correction, which currently is in design phase; replacement of valves and deep pipework, which is complete; and rehabilitation of sand filters, of which four out of 15 such filters have been refurbished. Progress on these items is jointly monitored by Irish Water and Fingal County Council staff. We note the recommendation by the EPA for a system-wide risk assessment of the plant. Fingal County Council will assist Irish Water in a rapid review and the identification and implementation of any necessary works. Fingal County Council acknowledges the disruption due to the issue of a boil water notice and offers apologies to all those affected by the issuing of the boil water notice on 22 October and the second notice, which is currently in place. We remain committed to performing our duties under the service level agreement with Irish Water to ensure a continued safe water supply.

I thank Ms Farrelly. Several members have indicated they wish to put questions. Before that, however, can Mr. Gleeson tell us whether he has a sense of when this boil water notice will be lifted? At the opening of his statement he said something to the effect that the results of the latest tests had come back and the torpidity level still is not satisfactory.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

When I left the crisis management centre this morning that was the information I had, the levels were still above where we would like them to be. We are waiting for the plant to improve. We will carry out testing and hopefully the torpidity levels in the raw water will drop in the meantime and the plant will start to produce clear water. It is operating correctly. There are no identifiable failures within the plant at the moment. It is simply that the filter beds are not operating as we would like them to.

So in effect the water needs to be boiled for the time being.

The context of this meeting was to review the October incident, if we can call it that, and now we are in the middle of a November incident. To follow the Chairman's question, I would like Irish Water, the Department and Fingal County Council to give us a clearer view as to what the estimated time should be. Are two or three tests needed before we get the all-clear from the Health Service Executive, HSE? When can the more than 615,000 consumers expect to have clean drinking water again? That is the question that those watching us here want answered. How do we try to ensure that incidents like this do not happen again? We will not get 100% assurance but as best as possible. The whole of my area in Fingal is affected. People are very angry and concerned and the October incident, which appears to have been a monumental failure in process, has created a real difficulty in respect of confidence in the robustness and safety of our water supply. We do not want that to be the case. We need to find out what we will do now and how quickly.

I welcome aspects of the statements that have been made, particularly by Irish Water and Fingal County Council, about things that have been done very quickly but one striking point in the EPA report is that the incident began at 3 p.m. on Monday, 21 October and ended at 5 a.m. on Tuesday 22 October. In that period two alarms showed up in the control room in Leixlip, one at 6.16 p.m. and one at 7.07 p.m. and when they were not responded to and contaminated water was still going into the system a text message was sent to the operator and that was ignored. For anyone reading the report or watching this meeting that is absolutely inexcusable. How many other times have alarms been ignored?

I am sure the witnesses know when they have been ignored. I know of a couple of instances in the past in my area. I will not go into specifics as it is unfair to do so. How many other incidents have occurred? What happens when alarms are actually ignored?

In his opening statement, Mr. Gleeson stated: “Irish Water is in the process of bringing all critical alarms nationally into our national operations management centre.” I welcome the fact that the chief executive of Fingal County Council has also stated that the council wants that to happen without delay. Mr. Gleeson also stated: “For this to be beneficial, however, Irish Water needs to be able to contact plant operators directly when an alarm is triggered.” If an alarm is triggered, be it in Ballymore Eustace, Leixlip, Galway or any other plant, is it the case that Irish Water cannot contact them directly? The weakest link in the chain seems to be around when an alarm has been triggered because of contaminated water and that public safety could be at risk. Thankfully, both of the recent shutdowns have been precautionary. I want to assure people about public safety with regard to water supply. What happens if an alarm were to go off tomorrow and was not responded to?

I congratulate Ms Farrelly on her appointment and I know this is her first time before the committee. These are serious issues, however. It clearly is an absolute breakdown in process and procedure. I can only go from the report of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and trust what it has said. People want to get this fixed. What steps will be taken between now and then? Irish Water referred to the filter bed replacement which has gone to the second quarter in 2020. Will Irish Water speak about the UV treatment? Additional technologies were looked for in March and, specifically, in October. What will that entail in terms of capital investment and time required to put that in place?

Going back to our current crisis, we need to get a handle on communications as to when Irish Water estimates water supply will be back. It is a big issue for the infirm, the sick and the elderly.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

On how we avoid this in the future, we and Fingal County Council have to look at the ways of working. We have listed several actions. However, direct control and our ability to directly communicate with staff is not in the current way of working. It is subject to the Workplace Relations Commission, meaning I am limited to that process. In certain areas, we need to look at improving ways of working under the current service level agreements, SLAs.

In plain English, what I am asking about is what happens right now. What happens with Irish Water and Fingal County Council when this type of incident happens?

Mr. Niall Gleeson

It would be escalated by a Fingal operator to his or her manager who would then contact an Irish Water manager who would take actions.

That is far from ideal,

Mr. Niall Gleeson

It is not the most efficient system.

Ms AnnMarie Farrelly

The period of poor water quality was shorter than the gap that has been discussed at the committee in terms of the 3 p.m. commencement of the debris accumulation. The water quality had deteriorated by 6.15 p.m. and reached critical level at 7.50 p.m. It was identified at 9 o’clock.

That said, there was a failure in our monitoring system on that day. That is subject to investigation and includes a disciplinary process which is under way.

In reaction to that, I can strengthen the systems that are there. That strengthening has already happened which is evidenced in terms of the prompt reaction taken on Sunday to this current incident. This includes a level of automation. Alerts are sent automatically to the on-call duty manager, for example. It also includes increased requirements from the on-call duty manager. I want to introduce increased out-of-hours site visits.

The SCADA, supervisory control and data acquisition system, which helped us identify the problem from 21 October, can be monitored remotely or on-site. Increased monitoring and reviewing of that system is important to understand if it is working well or if there is a problem we can address. It is not just a reliance on alarms. It is that plus regular auditing and review of what the reports tell us. Bringing in these improvements is under way and will help prevent this type of incident happening again.

The overriding shutdown of the system, which is now in place, would have prevented the incident in any event. Many improvements have been introduced in the past two weeks. Some are ongoing over the next couple of days. However, they will help to prevent this type of incident.

The ongoing incident is different as the committee has recognised. That relates to the quality of the raw water. We would be hopeful that the treatment will return to normal later this evening, provided there is no further deterioration in the raw water supply. That then instigates a process, outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, earlier, which leaves it in a position to commence its audit. There are several steps to go through once the water returns to normal.

We are not in a position to give a precise timeline for the next day or so.

However, there is no estimate to the minute. I know Mr. Gleeson said a number of days earlier on. Potentially, are we looking at the end of the weekend?

Mr. Niall Gleeson

We took three samples the last time. I suspect we will be looking at something similar this time. As Ms Farrelly said, the plant is still not operating properly. The window for the slug of water to flush through the system has not started yet. This is unfortunate and we are not happy about it but I have to be realistic about the situation.

I would be a hands-on managing director. Often, when I had a problem plant, I would go along in the middle of the night, talk to the operators and understand what was happening. Under the current working arrangements, I cannot do that. I cannot visit that site without an invitation and without permission. To me, that does not seem realistic.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

The EPA’s recommendations involve carrying out a full-risk assessment of the plant and UV treatment. Within the 30-day period in which we have to respond to the audit, we will carry out an assessment. We will discuss with the EPA the merits, or not, of having UV treatment there.

The location of the Leixlip plant, as has been referred to earlier, is downstream at the bottom of the catchment. Accordingly, UV is probably a requirement but we need to carry out the assessment. It is a major investment and we would need to be 100% sure that it is required. That assessment will be carried out.

In terms of the level of investment itself, one is looking at tens of millions of euro, as well as considerable operational costs because of the power demands of the UV system. When the assessment is complete, installing UV in a plant the size of Leixlip, with 190 Ml of water leaving the plant per day, will require planning permission and a procurement process. The best-case scenario is two to three years at this point in time.

Even if we had UV in place yesterday, we would still be in the current situation of a boil water notice because the pre-treatments, such as the sedimentation tanks and the filtration, have to be working properly for UV to be effective. UV is the final belt and braces in the treatment for cryptosporidium.

As Deputy Darragh O'Brien said this is having an enormous impact on people right across the six local authority areas affected. Deputy Breathnach is correct that any boil water notice is wrong. This is the single largest boil water notice we have ever had. It is six times greater than the total number of people affected by both boil water notices last year. It is also important that part of this has happened in a plant which in recent times has had significant upgrades, such as a new plant in 2014.

I am concerned that it was stated that the November incident is not a plant failure.

I completely accept from all the information we have received that there were two very different sets of incidents in October and November. If the witnesses are telling me that yesterday's event was not a plant failure, and given the fact that it is highly likely we will have a similar volume of rain in a short period of time at some point in the future, it seems that the plant ultimately is not designed right if it cannot cope with what was not the most exceptional of rain events. I will come back to that.

I know that Mr. Ó Coigligh has to come in and do the batting for the single utility, but on the basis of what Mr. Gleeson said, even if one had a single utility, that would not have made any difference to yesterday's incident because one is talking about the plant functioning properly. While we are very keen to have discussions around the single utility, I do not see how people responding to text messages, the failure to put in the shut-down system or yesterday's events would in any way be affected by a single utility or not. That is a separate issue.

I am still not clear on the alarm, so somebody needs to explain who the duty operator is. I am not looking for the person's name, but is it a member of Fingal County Council staff or is it a private operator? Was this individual asleep when he or she got the text message?

You are potentially identifying an individual and potentially identifying an individual's actions.

The respondents can answer because they are very professional and they know how to do their job. What I am saying is that we had an incident where we were told that an alarm system was not responded to over an extended period of time. That had a negative impact on 615,000 people. I would just like to know how that can happen. That is an important question to ask.

We got an update on where the implementation of recommendations from the March EPA report are at. I would like an explanation for the slippage that the EPA spoke about. What was the reason for that slippage and in particular, is installing an emergency shutdown system a very complicated job? Is there a reason that took longer than clearly the EPA thought should have happened from its report? I know the witnesses will not have completed their formal response to the EPA's October report, but are they in a position to give us any indication of timelines for the implementation of those nine recommendations? I know the witnesses have spoken about the UV system, but can the committee give us any more information in relation to that? Obviously that is very important to us.

In light of what the witnesses said about yesterday's events, what additional work do they think is going to be required to reduce or possibly eliminate such an event occurring again? I am accepting what they are saying that the plant operated properly yesterday in terms of the shutdown and the notifications, but for us to ensure that does not happen again, what additional works are required?

With respect to the Department, it was clear from what the EPA was saying earlier, and this also speaks to what Deputy Breathnach was saying in terms of his own experience in Louth, that it is giving the Department regular updates in terms of failure to implement the recommendations of its audit report and slippage in those. The most recent one was in September. What do people in the Department do when they get those reports? Do they get involved, engage with Irish Water or engage with the relevant local authority? At what point does this get brought to the attention of the Minister, given the scale of the issues that we are talking about?

In terms of the impact on families and businesses, is there going to be any compensation available? For example, many businesses will have lost trade or incurred very significant costs as a result of not having access to properly treated water. For example, no tankers have been provided to provide freshly treated water and people have had to buy significant volumes of expensive bottled water. This applies not just to the 615,000 people but people generally affected by boil water notices. Who foots the bill for the additional cost that is put on those businesses and householders?

Thank you very much, Deputy Ó Broin. I might start again with Mr. Gleeson. Then we will go to Ms Farrelly and Mr. Ó Coigligh.

Mr. Brendan Gleeson

I will just comment on the single utility. We have a national body that deals nationally with the EPA, so these incidents are very quickly identified and addressed with the EPA and the HSE through our crisis management team. We do this nationally and it works very effectively. We were also able to talk to other plants such as Ballymore Eustace and Vartry and increase their production, so again, the national utility took that role on. We looked at the network and how we could divert water from one network to another when we knew the Leixlip plant was not operating correctly. There is huge value in the national utility and bringing in a single management system with single standards, single measurements of sampling and testing, and a single type of quality system will be hugely beneficial to a national water system.

As I have stated before, the plant is fully operational and provides 20% of the water supply in Dublin. The filter bed upgrade, probably the most important piece of ongoing work, has proved difficult without impacting on production. It has been a problem.
A system of automatic shutdown was implemented in the new plant. Owing to a misunderstanding, our personnel felt they had satisfied the audit by implementing the system of automatic shutdown in the new plant and the secondary plant, which is more complicated and more difficult to prepare. We had placed a purchase order and there was a contractor involved. However, we had not done the work, which I agree is a failing of-----

When was the purchase order placed?

Mr. Niall Gleeson

I am not exactly sure. I think it was around May or June.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

It was placed some time in June.

With regard to compensation, it will be as per the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and the customer handbook. It will be paid to non-domestic customers and rebates will be given for the duration of the boil water notice in line with the customer handbook.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

The HSE recommends that one boil water from tankers. There was no point in us delivering water by tanker, but we did consider it. However, it is the same as water coming from the tap when there is a boil water notice. There is no advantage in having water supplies from a tanker.

I thank Mr. Gleeson for clarifying the matter.

Ms Ann Marie Farrelly

The staff employed to man the plant are employed directly by Fingal County Council and provided under a service level agreement for Irish Water.

In dealing with operational measures at the plant, from my perspective, every citizen in Fingal is impacted on. It is my local authority area. The standard in the slowness to respond to alarms is not acceptable to us and we are taking every measure to ensure it will not happen again. It is the subject of an ongoing investigation.

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

The managing director has pointed to some of the difficulties with the operations. If one looks at the nine recommendations made in the most recent Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, audit report, five of them use the term “Irish Water and Fingal County Council should”. That can create a difficulty as in such situations one agency will ask if it was a direction for it or the other agency. There are issues with this control and responsibility.

The EPA will provide the Department with regular updates at a monthly meeting. We have quarterly output monitor group meetings which include us, Irish Water, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, NewERA and the EPA and at which we look at the overall outputs of Irish Water in terms of investment, leakage management, the urban wastewater treatment directives, challenges and the remedial action list. At the last meeting of the output monitoring group I was at, the issue of Tallanstown came up. It showed up as a spike as a significant boil water notice had arisen in the previous period. Individual audit reports are not addressed to the Department but to the operator. The March report was not particularly brought to our attention. We were not particularly aware of a significant issue in Leixlip, save that it was mentioned on the website. It was not addressed to the Department, stating we should be aware of it and that, therefore, we needed to talk to somebody about it. The seriousness of the incident meant that the Minister felt he needed to ask the EPA if there were other actions that needed to be taken or if there were policy impacts. The next time we meet we will have had the experience of dealing with this incident and it will need to be discussed because, as has been pointed out, it is completely out of scale with anything else we have experienced before.

To get back to the focus on timelines and the problem that we currently face, the most recent tests have come back and they are not at the standard that we want to lift the boil water notice. Is that correct?

Mr. Niall Gleeson

No testing has come back.

How long does testing take, in the main? I think Mr. Gleeson said that three samples have been sent off.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

Tests have to run for 24 hours and it takes another day to get the results.

So we are expecting those samples to come back to us this evening at some stage?

Ms Katherine Walshe

This evening or tomorrow morning, yes.

If those samples come back in the clear and say that the boil water notice is no longer required, can that boil water notice then be immediately lifted?

Ms Katherine Walshe

On the last occasion, three samples were required.

Three samples at sequenced times?

Mr. Niall Gleeson

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ms Katherine Walshe

We did Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Three samples were required at a sequence of times. If the same template was to be followed again, with a sample being sent off yesterday evening, a sample will be sent off this evening and a sample will be sent off tomorrow evening.

Ms Katherine Walshe

Every day.

We would then be looking at the next day, which would be Thursday, in the best-case scenario before the boil water notice was lifted. Is that correct?

Ms Katherine Walshe

I would estimate that that would be the case.

That is very informative. I appreciate that.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

The turbidity levels in the plant need to come back below acceptable levels. To clarify, the reason we are so focused on the turbidity, or cloudiness, of the water coming out through the filter beds is that for the measurements we are taking, once the turbidity goes above a certain level, it means that the cryptosporidium or giardia bugs can get through the filter beds. We are not measuring continuously for the bugs. We are measuring the beds to see what level of particles is getting through. If larger particles are getting through, then there is a chance that giardia or cryptosporidium can get through too. It is precautionary.

I think I understand. In effect, if the particles can get through, the measures to prevent cryptosporidium are-----

Mr. Niall Gleeson

They are not there.

In the same scenario that Mr. O'Leary posed with the UV, even if it was available, with the great cost to install it and the energy that it consumes, nevertheless, with the turbidity, it would not necessarily be effective in this scenario. Have I got that correct?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

It would not be effective. It would not be operating within its calibration range.

We are in ongoing discussions with the HSE about lifting the boil water notice. A number of criteria have been identified. As Mr. Gleeson said, the plant has to stabilise and then we have to get some clear samples. The EPA has to be satisfied and then we have to ensure that any water at risk, which may not have received an adequate amount of treatment, has left the system.

In the sequence I have outlined, am I correct in saying that, at the earliest, Thursday will see the lifting of the boil water notice?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

At the very earliest.

It was important to clarify that. Notwithstanding the council's response, which is comprehensive, I think there are many things which Irish Water and Fingal County Council could work better on. There were six hours between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. where this was accumulating and the water quality was getting worse.

Ms AnnMarie Farrelly

The incident commenced at 3 p.m. and it would have taken some time for there to be a consequence of that accumulation. It certainly took a number of hours.

It is a long time. Does Ms Farrelly think that is good enough? Do any consequences arise from this and can Ms Farrelly outline them? What accountability will there be? Deputy Ó Broin outlined this well. Some 600,000 people are affected by this. Businesses, families and communities are affected by this. They will be out of pocket and inconvenienced by this. What accountability is there?

Ms AnnMarie Farrelly

As I mentioned in my report, an investigation is ongoing. We need to understand why alarms were not responded to. The ultimate accountability will be through a disciplinary process, if that is appropriate. A process is already under way.

Mr. Ó Coigligh stated:

The priority in such an event is always to ensure that people's health is protected. Irish Water, the HSE and the EPA are all working together in their respective roles...

There is no mention of Fingal County Council. Is that an omission?

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

Not particularly. The legal responsibility rests with Irish Water, the HSE and the EPA in this specific role.

I presume Fingal County Council would be involved in the co-ordination of the response.

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

I think Irish Water might be most able to answer.

Can Mr. Gleeson tell me if Fingal County Council is involved in these meetings? I assume it was part of the meeting yesterday.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

It is on every conference call with the HSE and the EPA.

Okay. I have probably broken my own rule and gone over time so I will stop in a moment.

The Chairman said it.

With regard to Irish Water's appendix, I assumed that all customers got text messages. I have been receiving text messages saying to boil water. I have received three at this stage. It is only vulnerable customers and business customers. Why not all customers?

Mr. Niall Gleeson

We would not necessarily have up-to-date records on all customers.

Even for those that Irish Water has records for, it seems based on the appendix with the summary of communications that no attempt was made.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

We are using the opportunity, when any customer contacts us, to ask for the customer's mobile numbers-----

Do we not have them as a matter of course?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

Not always, no. It is voluntary registration for vulnerable customers. At the time, a domestic customer's mobile number was not a requirement.

I think we are acutely aware of how voluntary the registration process was.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

From a communication perspective, one instantly gets a text message or an email. If any customer contacts Irish Water about the incident, we ask if it is okay to keep him or her updated via text in the future.

Would they be lumped into the vulnerable customer category?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

Vulnerable people had to register primarily on medical grounds or about concerns they may have had. It was voluntary registration and a matter of whether people deemed themselves vulnerable. We did not question it. Some of those customers may be highly vulnerable, such as those on dialysis, so they really need to be kept up to date. We do not pry into what the circumstances of others are. There is an immediate call-out to those vulnerable customers in the event of an incident with water.

I compliment the various organisations, including Irish Water and the Department, for their proactivity on many problems. Staleen in my constituency is a classic example. There were major problems last year. We eventually got to a solution. While today's debate centres on Leixlip, it is symptomatic of other micro-problems across the country. I will start with the issue of turbidity. Heavy rain and flooding are common in Ireland. The witnesses say it was exactly the same in Tallanstown, on a smaller scale. The reality is that there are almost 100,000 people in addition to the 600,000 people impacted by the Leixlip plant who have boil water noices. I think the figure was approximately 92,000. If the flooding and heavy rain continues, as it does in this country, will it not become commonplace rather than exceptional in many of these schemes if the necessary equipment cannot be installed?

The witnesses mentioned the gap in controllers. There also seems to be a gap in the response. We are here to discuss a nationwide issue. It was clear in Tallanstown that there was a similar problem with a breakdown of some form of communication, of alarms or otherwise, and it was found by the EPA that it posed an unacceptable risk to public health and to consumers of that public water supply. There was a 12 day gap where somebody did not issue a boil water notice, knowing that that water was in danger of contamination. There were reports of people who were sick for a considerable period. I asked this question this morning, when I did not get an answer, and will ask it here again. I say that Tallanstown was a microcosm of Leixlip because it started with flooding, moved on to alarms not operating and then moved on to the issue of two audits in the scheme I am referring to, where the response to those audits was unacceptable. Have we learned a lesson from that? Will the witnesses, along with the EPA, be looking at the audits that have not been acted upon with a view to putting those on the remedial action list that the EPA referred to?

I have a number of comments about other issues. The witnesses mentioned voluntary registration. In my experience, in Louth, other than the odd text and email to public representatives, the public do not receive notification unless they have voluntarily registered.

When boil water notices go on for a long period of time, there is no excuse for people not to be informed, whether by the local authority or Irish Water, which has a list of domestic and non-domestic supplies. I was involved in a group water scheme for 21 years. The information is there but it needs to be transmitted to people when there is a boil water notice.

I understand the issue of tankers. There is no excuse not to provide people with bottled water when there are boil water notices. I want that addressed, whether for small schemes or large schemes covered by Leixlip. I sent at least ten emails to Irish Water, which were responded to but in which there was not one mention of the EPA reports. I ask for those reports to be made available, as they come about, to members of the local authorities and to Dáil representatives. There need to be regular meetings of public representatives, whether national or otherwise. My blood has boiled over the past 105 days, as has that of the public, but I smile when I hear how alarms do not operate. The Cavan Hill water scheme in Louth, which was one of the biggest in the country at the time, used fish to move from one tank to the other when there was contamination. It is beyond me that the alarm systems, with all their modern technology, were not responded to. Tallanstown was a microcosm of Leixlip because there was a breakdown in communication as to who was in charge of the plant. I understand that people were on holidays at the time. People are very concerned about the quality of water.

To what degree is the EPA monitoring the water at the extraction point, before it goes into treatment? I can go on for a week about issues relating to the River Glyde supply, whether in the form of aluminium from the mine in Magheracloone, which was flagged to Irish Water, or pesticides. What is the cause of the flooding in water, which has not been a problem heretofore?

The Deputy says his blood is boiling about this and some people listening to the sequence of events will find themselves needing a boil water notice of their own. There is a great deal of anger out there and my phone is lighting up on the subject.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien took the Chair.

The presentation today referred to inconvenience and disruption but that language does not meet what people are feeling. There have been two boil water notices in quick succession, having been none previously, and people are really afraid, worrying whether it is safe to drink their water. The tone of the witnesses needs to reflect the fact that there is real fear about the quality and safety of water. More than one in ten people are affected so it is huge.

On the issue of cloudy water, how does rain get into the water treatment plant? It comes in where there is not a combined sewer and surface water gets into the pumping stations, making the intake at Leixlip not as good as one would want and requiring a greater clean-up. How wide is the risk assessment in the context of rainfall levels?

Does it look further upstream, at both the pumping stations? Are there holding tanks there or not? What happens to overflows when there is a lot of rain?

I live in Leixlip and have got my water there since the late 1970s, so this is highly unusual. New developments now have separated systems so the phenomenon should be reducing, not growing. There are more households using the system and, of course, there is a lot of industry, with one wet industry in particular that uses a dedicated pipe. Does this get its supply wholly from Leixlip?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

Deputy Breathnach spoke about cloudy water, or turbidity. The new plant at Leixlip is working okay and, even with higher turbidity in the river water, it can manage where the old plant could not. This shows that the technology can manage the situation if it is put in correctly. He asked about the response in respect of Tallanstown and he said information was the key. That is correct. As soon as we were aware of the issue at Tallanstown we contacted the EPA and the HSE and emergency sampling and testing took place. It was deemed that there was no immediate risk and, after further consultation with the HSE and in light of the cryptosporidium risk, it was decided that a boil water notice should be imposed. The notice was initially for some 2,000 people and this number was reduced by the number who found alternative supplies, leaving between 500 and 600 people. We have carried out weekly cryptosporidium testing in the interim and, to date, samples have been clear.

The Deputy also asked about EPA reports. We have written to every individual customer on the remedial action list. We want to get the information out and we are fully transparent. It is not in our interests to sit on information and as soon as we know something we are happy to liaise immediately with both the EPA and the HSE.

Bottled water is part of our response to all vulnerable customers. An offer is made but very few take it up because boiling water makes it okay. Deputy Breathnach mentioned technology and referred to the use of fish in tanks. This used to have a benefit because, when river water was polluted, they would leave one tank to go to the fresher water. It was also very good for school tours but technology has moved on and it is now possible to put in monitors and sensors of raw water, which we test as it comes into plants. In Leixlip, we have continuous ammonia monitoring and any increases cause alarm bells to ring at the plant.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

We respond to every single audit item. In the Leixlip audit for March there was a misunderstanding about the shutdown but all other open items are being acted upon. They are just taking longer. We can correct some of the items straight away but some, such as the UV issue in the report, require an analysis and a discussion with the EPA. If the EPA makes a recommendation we take it on board. Open items on an audit are not necessarily a bad thing.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

I take on board what Deputy Murphy said about language. We are bitterly disappointed with this and we fully understand the impact it has on customers, both domestic and non-domestic. The raw water which is extracted comes from the full River Liffey catchment upstream.

We are not just looking at pump stations or combined sewers. We are looking at everything that is in the catchment area, and all of that comes down as far as Leixlip. It is not just the combined sewers, misconnections or issues such as that. It is everything that is happening from the perspective of agriculture, pesticides and so on. That is what comes down, and we do sample in that regard.

The Deputy referred to the risk assessment. In its audit report the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, outlines risk assessment in the plan. However, we are very much in the space of drinking water safety plans where we do a risk assessment from source to tap, as we call it. We go right back into the catchment. That risk assessment will be part and parcel of our assessment around the need or otherwise for UV. The risk assessment has to take the catchment into account. We will then know what we have to treat in the plant, but when it leaves the plant, we also have to take the network into account and see how it is behaving.

In terms of the wet industry the Deputy referred to, whereas they were always fed solely from Leixlip, they now receive water from Ballymore Eustace as well.

When did that happen?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

I will revert to the Deputy with a date on it. It is going on 12 or 18 months at least. I will revert to the Deputy to confirm a date. They are fed now both from Leixlip and from Ballymore Eustace via Castlewarden and Ballygoran.

Can I ask a supplementary question?

I ask the Deputy to be brief. We are tight on time and I have to call Deputy Fitzmaurice.

On the risk assessment, given the number of people involved here and what Mr. O'Leary has described in terms of downstream of the river source, is this the most at risk water supply?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

I would make two comments, and I am thinking on my feet somewhat now. The wet industry the Deputy spoke about would have had the potential for that supply for the past five or six years, but it is taking more now from Ballymore Eustace as opposed to Leixlip.

Is there a reason for that?

The witness can make a brief response. I have to move on to Deputy Fitzmaurice.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

Nothing in particular. What they want is a continuous supply of water. We are trying to maximise water distribution within the Dublin area, so we will work with that industry as well, because of its high demand, on how we can distribute water to it.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

The at-risk water supply would be right up there because of its location.

Deputy Noel Rock resumed the Chair.

I call Deputy Fitzmaurice. The Deputy is welcome.

I thank the Chairman for allowing me to speak. My first question is for Mr. O'Leary. In terms of Leixlip, I am familiar with the area from Leixlip to Ballycoolin as I was involved in laying the pipework going out that way. First, is there a problem with staff shortages in Leixlip? I note Irish Water has job vacancies there at the moment. Second, is a sand-type system used? I presume there is UV, chlorination and all of that on it. What was the problem with the alarms that they were not activated? Generally, they are fairly foolproof. Third, is there a problem downstream with torpidity? Torpidity will change. People need to understand, in fairness to Irish Water or any group supplying water, that the regulations have changed so much that when it goes to a certain specification, a boil water notice must be issued. Are there problems with the sewerage systems belonging to Irish Water where overflows have occurred and pressure is being put on it? That is in respect of the Leixlip set-up.

In terms of Irish Water's five-year framework, if one reads Michael Brennan's book, and I refer to Coffey Construction also, the money in that ran out over a month ago. Is there a problem with the amount of funding Irish Water needs? To put in the machinery the witnesses are talking about in Leixlip and other places throughout the country, it will need a good deal of funding. Does Irish Water need more funding to get emergency works done? It is fine for the EPA to do reports. What people need to realise is that before Irish Water was established, a part of this country, namely, Roscommon was subject to a boil water notice for ten years. Irish Water needs a lot of money. Judging by the budgets I have seen, there are many areas across the country that need major works, but to be honest, Irish Water does not seem to have the budget required for that.

Will the delegates address the leak detection issue?

When the Leixlip plant is up and running again and the boil water notice has been withdrawn, will Irish Water have scoured all of the lines from the plant that supply water to the 600,000 people affected?

The next question is for Mr. Ó Coigligh and the Irish Water representatives. The level of funding for sewage treatment plants in smaller towns has been changed this year by the Department. No funding is proposed for a plant in a small town where raw sewage might be flowing into a river because Irish Water does not have a scheme in it. The delegates must realise that where I come from, a rural area, we look after our own water supply through a group water scheme. There was a scheme for sewerage systems, but small towns and villages have been left in a position where raw sewage can flow into rivers. There are communities that are willing to come together in that regard, but because there is no Irish Water scheme in a town, there is no funding in place. We were told that Irish Water was coming up with such a scheme. Is it coming up with one?

The Deputy is one minute over time.

My next question is for Mr. O'Leary and Mr. Ó Coigligh. At Lough Talt in Sligo Irish Water was going through the imperative reasons of overriding public interest, IROPI, process. It is dragging on. Mr. Ó Coigligh should be very familiar with the national parks. Is the process nearly complete for the people surrounding Lough Talt who have experienced a problem with the water supply for the past ten years?

Is Irish Water going to move forward in undertaking the Shannon job if there is a problem in Dublin?

On procurement, Irish Water is stopping smaller contractors from operating because of the way it is increasing its turnover figures. If it keeps doing so, it will limit water works in Ireland to four or five contractors. The smaller operators that once worked for the councils are becoming sub-contractors.

We will start at the top.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

I will take the question on funding. Ms Farrelly will take the question on staffing and alarms, while Mr. O'Leary will answer the balance.

On funding, we have a strategic funding plan which was agreed with the Government. It is a €6 billion plan, with a comprehensive list of projects and programmes. It is a significant amount of money which will cover a lot of work. There are probably areas that will not be covered under this five-year programme, but it is comprehensive.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

The Deputy asked about the scouring of pipes when the boil water notice has been lifted. We have modelled the water network from Leixlip. At any point in time we know where the water at risk is, whether it be after 12, 24, 36 or 48 hours. We were speaking about samples earlier. If we know that the plant was stable, we would know where water would have passed through at the 72-hour mark. To lift the initial boil water notice, we had to undertake some scouring at the extremities of the network to remove any remaining at-risk water.

The Deputy asked about Lough Talt. I am happy to report that the IROPI process has been completed. We received planning permission and the contractor is on site. That contract is progressing.

On procurement, we have a number of frameworks in place and work closely with the industry. We are not in the business of setting up monopolies for very large businesses.

They are being set up-----

Mr. Michael O'Leary

They are very much locally based. We work very closely with the Construction Industry Federation and the industry. Any contractor who has difficulties with our procurement process is very welcome to come to talk to us.

Ms AnnMarie Farrelly

I acknowledge that we have a good and skilled workforce operating the Leixlip treatment plant. We have skilled and experienced engineers who know the plant well. They know what the differences are between the old and the new systems and in how the system must operate on a 24-hour basis to maintain the water supply produced at the plant. There is a recruitment process under way to recruit a plant operator, but five of the six positions have been filled. The recruitment process ended yesterday.

The vacancy will be filled quickly. As the range of other skills required at the plant is available, there is no shortage right now. It is difficult for every local authority to maintain experienced staff for Irish Water duties. As staff retire, we are generally finding it more and more difficult to recruit and fill positions. Right now the treatment plant is staffed satisfactorily.

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

Reference was made to Lough Talt. The Deputy will be interested to know that the first proper and full imperative reasons of overriding public interest, IROPI, effort is to be carried out there by an Irish authority from beginning to end. The Deputy will be familiar with the issues from what has happened in other areas.

We are aware of the community group sewerage scheme issue. It is more complex than the issue of group water schemes. We have a poor level of experience of smaller community managed sewage treatment plants because of their complexity and requirements. There is limited support available among the existing group. If available, the rural multi-annual programme for connection to an existing Irish Water pipeline is something we said we would look at. There is a review group for rural water services and we said we would look at it as an issue. However, it is complex and it is unlikely to be an area where we will come forward immediately with answers. It is something that is being looked at.

I wish to clarify what we are facing in villages that do not have Irish Water treatment plants. There is no funding available for the people affected and raw sewage can run into rivers. That is the reality.

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

It is really a question of providing for the meeting of additional demand. In rural communities most people have septic tanks, the use of which is a broader environmental issue.

I am talking about small towns.

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

Irish Water will be working with local authorities in prioritising investment in smaller towns and villages, but there will be a limited number of schemes.

I alert Deputies to the fact that a vote has been called. We can continue, but there is only one Senator present. Realistically, we will probably have to suspend the sitting.

I have a couple of quick questions. I welcome the contributions that have been made. People understand how grave the issue is and it is not only an issue because it affects the greater Dublin area; it is of significance because of the size of the outage.

As I put most of my earlier questions to the Environmental Protection Agency, Irish Water and Fingal County Council, I want to turn to the officials from the Department. What assurance has been given by the Department and the Minister that, should additional funding be required by Irish Water or Fingal County Council to implement the recommendations made, additional funding will be made available? Can that commitment be given here? I believe it would be useful post the resolution of the November incident. The committee could reconvene with the agencies represented today for a special session to ensure we would be kept abreast of developments in the implementation of the recommendations made. In that way we could ensure oversight by the committee in the sense of being hands on. That is a proposal I am making formally.

In his statement Mr. Ó Coigligh said the Minister had spoken directly to the managing director of Irish Water, Fingal County Council and the general director of the Environmental Protection Agency. When did that happen? Was it a face to face meeting, or was it on the telephone? I have a particular reason for asking that question.

Mr. Ó Coigligh referenced how reform was critical to the improvement programme for water services delivery. He said Irish Water had responsibility for public water services operated under service level agreements with the 31 local authorities but that the company lacked direct operational control of services. He went on to say this was not satisfactory and that the set-up was no longer fit for purpose. Who is responsible for changing it? Who is responsible for changing the responsibilities Irish Water has and the relationship between Irish Water and the 31 local authorities?

What I have seen in the past week is a large degree of washing of hands of the issue by the Department and the Minister.

There has been a Pontius Pilate approach to this and it is not acceptable because at the end of the day the Minister is the line Minister and the Secretary General is the Accounting Officer. When the Department makes such statements it is as if the Department is simply commentating on the issue. The suggestion is that it is awful and not satisfactory and no longer fit for purpose. The reason I bring the Minister into this is because the official mentioned it in his statement as well. Who is responsible for changing it?

I want to alert the members to the fact that myself and Deputy Ó Broin will pair for the upcoming vote. Accordingly, we will be able to continue.

I am not able to do that.

We will still be here in any event.

I will be straight back afterwards.

Perhaps Deputy O'Brien's questions could be answered on his return, if that suits.

If everyone is happy with that, let us do it. We will go to Deputy Ó Broin and then we will come to Senator Murnane O'Connor.

I have three quick questions - I realise the Senator has not got in yet. The first thing is to go back to the question of the alarm. The EPA report in March indicated an issue with responding to the alarms. I am interested to know how Irish Water and Fingal County Council responded. What was done to try to ensure that that issue of non-response to the alarm that occurred in March, which was identified in the EPA report in April, did not recur? There is obviously the issue of who did not respond to the alarm and why. There is also the question of the management system in place. Given that there had been an earlier incident I am interested to hear back on that matter.

The second question is for Irish Water. It goes back to the question of the November incident and what works need to be done to ensure that the possibility of that type of incident is reduced as much as possible. I understand from the last response that work is being done around the filtration system. If it is decided to do the ultraviolet work and money is provided, would that reduce the likelihood of recurrence of the November incident or would further works be required to mitigate the effects?

My final question is for the Department officials. I appreciate that the reports the Department received from the EPA right up to September did not specifically relate to this audit and the issue of slippage, as the EPA termed it, in implementation. The references were more part of a general report. The Department gets those general reports. At what point does the Department start to red-flag stuff in a preventative way? We have heard from other Deputies about boil water notices for over 100 consecutive days. Is there a point at which the Department decides there is a problem it needs to get involved in? If so, what does the Department do at that stage, other than receiving the information and being informed?

The Irish Water officials addressed a question on compensation for non-domestic customers. Is compensation available for regular families? The Irish Water officials seemed to indicate that if people request bottled water they will get it. That is certainly news to me and probably to the vast majority of people who have been spending sums of money on this. Is there a facility available for individuals and families who have spent significant sums of money on bottled water to recoup or to secure bottled water directly from Irish Water?

We will come to you first on that question, Mr. Gleeson.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

The first question was on the alarms and the responsibility or response to the alarms. I guess the majority of it is down to Fingal County Council. We indicated our dissatisfaction in March with the non-response. One of my fundamental principles on this issue is that we cannot have a system relying on the actions of one operator. We need to put in place better control systems and auto-shutdowns but more automation as well. Our national control centre has secondary responsibility or an extra layer of responsibility. We need systems and ways of working around that to make it effective.

Ms AnnMarie Farrelly

I will address the March incident. There was a particular staff issue that gave rise to it. That issue was dealt with in March. There is always ongoing training and repeat training for staff members. That is part of how we address it. We were asked about what happens at the plant, understanding what happened the night before and what has been happening on an ongoing basis. That is implemented by the management staff at the plant.

Again, shortcomings could then be addressed with the individual employees.

I have been discussing with Mr. Gleeson whether we should employ additional staff, especially for the out-of-hours times. That process is ongoing and will take time to implement. In the meantime, we need to strengthen our monitoring and controls. That process is ongoing this week. We have significantly enhanced those already. It is work in progress and improvements are already in place, with more to happen. We are open to every solution here. If it requires more staff to be on site at all times, then this is something we can look at.

There is an issue in that the older plant probably produces more alarms than a more modern plant, which is a factor. We need to understand and prioritise the alarms so they are reacted to in the right way. It is a work in progress, but improvements can be made and have been made. Whatever is needed will happen straight away.

Does Mr. O'Leary wish to come in on the point about bottled water?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

With regard to the November incident and if further works will be required before UV treatment would be compatible with the plant. The answer to that is "Yes". We are currently upgrading the filters, but the sedimentation tank also needs to be upgraded with putting in tube settlers, which enhance the settlement and also the pH correction.

Is that in the capital at the moment?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

That is in the capital programme at the moment with a delivery date sometime in 2024. If the ultimate decision is taken that we are proceeding with UV, then the two may dovetail together in terms of a delivery timeframe.

Will it be compatible then?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

If a decision is taken on UV, both will progress in parallel. That is a decision that has yet to be taken.

But that will be four years away.

Mr. Michael O'Leary


And on the bottled water?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

That may have been misinterpreted with regard to bottled water for everybody. We offer bottled water to vulnerable customers who may not be in a position themselves to go out to shops to purchase it. At this point we do not provide bottled water to the general domestic customer.

Does Irish Water have the same self-selecting methodology for vulnerable customers for bottled water as it does for the text messages, or is there some criterion a person must meet?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

We ring vulnerable customers and we ask them if they require bottled water. At the time of the initial incident, of the number of the customers we called, only one took up the offer.

What would be vulnerable? The public will be watching this. Who should be ringing Irish Water?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

Vulnerable by its nature are those people who are infirm or who may not be in a position to manage things for themselves. We do not have a clear definition on it. It was voluntary registration at the time, which is going back several years.

I understand that it is effectively self-selecting vulnerable customers. One of my constituents contacted Irish Water last night about the text message of dates and they were asked if they would like to be put on the vulnerable customers list. As far as I can understand from that sequence of events, if a person wants to be declared a vulnerable customer, he or she is therefore a vulnerable customer.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

We do not investigate the issue.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

There are no criteria.

Ultimately, in the round, anyone who wants to be declared a vulnerable customer and wants the offer of bottled water can avail of same. Am I incorrect in that?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

It is interesting that in the vulnerable customers who are registered, the take-up is few and far between.

Sure, but we just want to get clarity on the issue.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

That is the case. We would need details, for example, for a way to contact people. That is the issue and it may be the challenge for people.

Of course. That is understandable.

I will continue on. Many of the questions have been asked. I believe there is a huge communication problem. A system where Irish Water does not know who is vulnerable or who qualifies to be vulnerable is a problem before we even start. Irish Water does not know what the 31 local authorities are doing because every local authority is different and I believe it needs to put something in place. It is crucial. We all know vulnerable people. Can I go into my local authority and say to a council worker that I know a vulnerable person who needs water? What do I do to get it? It is an issue when one loses contact with the person on the ground. I am from Carlow and Carlow local authority was always the base. Carlow County Council always fixed the pipes and did the work. When a person rang the council, he or she knew who he or she was ringing. The person knew the face.

Irish Water has been an operational company since it began in 2014. The company's lo-call number is 1890 278 278. I give it out all the time. I have my own number, which I call and get through to the local call centre. I have done this several times because I have done it for other people. Then the local call centre has to get through to Irish Water. Then Irish Water must get through to the local authority, whichever one it is. Local authorities cannot touch a pipe without getting consent from Irish Water. There is now a system whereby a person rings a number, gets through to a call centre, then the call is passed on to Irish Water and then to the particular local authority. It is not working. The reason it is not working is that there are too many numbers. I am constantly highlighting water outages or whatever is happening. I do not mind doing that because that is my role. I will do that. People, however, are finding it hard. It is not like going in and speaking to someone face to face. I do not think this system is working. Is there any way that Irish Water could change that? I believe that local authorities have lost all power. I deal with Gráinne in Carlow, who is excellent. I must give her credit where credit is due, but I feel that there is a huge communication problem, which is getting bigger. Irish Water needs to look at that. Perhaps the witnesses could come back to me on that.

The Senator is already over her two minutes. There are just nine minutes remaining for the entire hearing, including the answers to the Senator's queries.

This is my first time to talk. Could I have one-----

I am sorry that the Senator was not here for the entire session. I must abide by the rules. We only have nine minutes left in the room.

Okay. I thank the Chairman.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

On the communication side, we have a national control centre and a national customer centre. That is effective for the entire country. It is not localised and is not relying on individuals' knowledge and so on. We have separate numbers for customers to dial in and we have numbers for elected representatives. I am relatively new in the position, but reading into it there is a single point of contact. For the customer it should be seamless. They do not see those various points of connection. The Senator understands them but the customer just rings up that number and reports a leak, and we take it from there. To me, the system is working.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

The goal of the system is that there would be a single point of contact for the customers. There may be things going on behind the scenes between Irish Water and the local authority but when the customer rings our call centre that call should then be actioned and our call centre should then get back to the customer. If this is breaking down in any area I would be happy to hear from the Senator and we could investigate the particular issues. With all these things, we always aim for continual improvement. From our perspective the customer is centre stage and the call centre is there to serve the customer.

Absolutely, and that is fine, but when one loses the personal contact within the local authority it becomes an issue. Irish Water will always have to go back to the local authority anyway. Without a face that one can contact it becomes a problem. Perhaps we could look at some other way. I am aware that Irish Water has a Twitter hashtag and 1800 numbers, and I know the company is given media coverage, but Irish Water has been given a lot of funding over the years-----

This contribution is turning into a supplementary speech. I am sorry but we are-----

Mr. Michael O'Leary

To add to that, whether the communication is face to face or over the phone to the contact centre, ultimately it is about the level of service that one gets. If the customer gets the level of service, it is immaterial to them whether they were talking to someone over the counter or by phone to the call centre.

I thank Mr. O'Leary. Given that we have just five minutes left I suggest a written response to Deputy Ó Broin's questions. The Deputy is not back in the room and it would be most appropriate to deal with them sequentially because I would not be aware of exactly the questions he asked. Can we get a written response from each-----

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

Do we forward them directly to the committee?

Yes. If we could get written responses from each relevant body please. I will conclude with a question for Ms Farrelly. What prompted the off-site engineer to log in and look? Is the witness aware if the engineer was prompted by a person or an incident, or was it luck?

Ms AnnMarie Farrelly

The off-site engineer was aware of some changes at the plant that day, not connected with the incident, and routinely logs in during the evening just to check things.

It is not necessarily part of his job. He was not on call that evening but he did log in.

Fair play to him. He deserves credit where it is due. Were it not for his diligence this would presumably have run on for hours longer, as the incident happened overnight.

Can Mr. Gleeson talk about compensation? How much has been paid out in compensation by Irish Water since 2016?

Mr. Niall Gleeson

I do not have those numbers to hand.

Can Mr. Gleeson supply them?

Mr. Niall Gleeson

Yes. We can supply the detail on how to apply. We calculate compensation directly for the customers. It is an automatic refund.

I would like to know how to apply and the figures involved. This could add up quite quickly following an outage for 600,000 individuals.

Mr. Niall Gleeson

We can supply those numbers.

Based on the map currently available online, more customers seem to have been impacted by this outage. Areas of Dublin 9 which were not highlighted in the previous map are highlighted now. Were more customers impacted this time or was the previous map inaccurate?

Mr. Niall Gleeson

There were a lot of queries from certain customers about the previous map. We have widened the map to remove any doubt. We directed customers to assume they were included if there were any question as to whether they were or not. We have widened that map to include those additional areas.

Very well. Deputy O'Brien is back, so perhaps the witnesses can give brief answers to his questions. October was a unique situation. We all accept that now. An alert was missed, a sequence of events happened, alarms were missed and so on. November was not so unique. Rain led to turbidity, which led to cryptosporidium treatments not being as successful as they would have been. Rain is not a unique occurrence. Could this keep happening until the upgrade of the filters is complete?

Mr. Michael O'Leary

The initial challenge is to get the boil water notice lifted and to work through the criteria we worked with previously. There will be a risk until the plant is upgraded.

There will be a risk of this recurring until the second quarter of 2020.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

There is always a risk. Let us be very clear on that. With any water treatment plant there is always a risk of-----

Of course, but there is an elevated risk at this point in view of all of the upgrades.

Mr. Michael O'Leary

We are also looking at other avenues. We are trying maximise what we take from other water treatment plants in the greater Dublin area to take some pressure off the Leixlip plant. Through those measures and other works we are carrying out on the site we hope to reduce that risk as much as possible.

I appreciate Mr. O'Leary's answers and his time. Perhaps Mr. Ó Coigligh could return to Deputy O'Brien's point in the closing two minutes, as the next committee is waiting.

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

As the managing director outlined, Irish Water has a significant budget. The works required at Leixlip can be managed within that capital budget. I am sure of that. Regarding the Minister's liaison with various people, he was on the phone to senior executives in Irish Water almost immediately once he was notified of the incident on the Tuesday evening. He spoke to the managing director in the following days. Yesterday he spoke separately to Mr. Niall Gleeson, the chief executive of Fingal County Council and the director general of the EPA, and said he would be having a formal meeting with the managing director.

I asked that because in response to a question in the Dáil the Minister referred to a meeting with Irish Water on Monday, 21 October. He gave the impression that this related to the Leixlip plant and the associated water difficulties. I want to know if Leixlip and the boil water notice were discussed at that meeting. Was that a regular meeting or a special meeting? In response to a question raised in the Dáil by Deputy Dara Calleary on 23 October, the Minister gave the impression that it was a special meeting specifically convened to deal with the first October incident. Can Mr. Ó Coigligh shed any light on that? I know he is not the Minister and the Minister is not here. I will ask himself when I have the opportunity.

I am sorry, but I am under strict Oireachtas rules. Mr. Ó Coigligh has 15 seconds to answer.

That could be fortunate. Was it a regular meeting?

Mr. Ó Coigligh can give a "Yes" or a "No" answer in conjunction with the written submission.

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

It was a catch-up meeting with Irish Water.

Was it a regular meeting?

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

It was a regular meeting addressing a lot of current issues.

My other question is who is actually responsible for change. Mr. Ó Coigligh said that the current process and lines of responsibility are not satisfactory and are no longer fit for purpose. Whose responsibility is it to change that?

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

The Minister has asked all parties to engage with the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, process.

Who is charged with the legal responsibility to bring those changes about?

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

Section 19 of the Water Services Act 2017 states that local authority workers can be assigned to Irish Water, but in the absence of agreement the Minister has asked the WRC-----

The Minister is responsible for it, is he not?

Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh

-----to ensure that this process can happen in an agreed manner.

Maith go leor. I thank the witness.

I thank all the witnesses for their time today. I appreciate them sharing their expertise at such a busy and acutely critical moment. I thank Irish Water, Fingal County Council and the Department for their time. We will resume on Thursday to discuss latent defects and the deposit guarantee scheme.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.45 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 7 November 2019.