Water Supply

I welcome the Minister of State. While the matter before the House is a local issue, it is one which is causing much distress and anxiety to a strong, rural Gaeltacht community, the community of Magheraroarty. For many years the people of County Donegal have been aware of issues relating to water supply, especially the pipes carrying the public water supply through much of west Donegal, including the areas of Gaoth Dobhair, the Rosses and Gortahork. The area to which I refer is Magheraroarty. In the past two months the pipes have exploded or burst seven times. In some instances these events have left the community without water, while in others, the water supply had to be turned off. The Minister of State will appreciate that in this day and age when something like this happens once, it causes annoyance; when it happens twice, there is anger, and when it happens three times, people cannot understand why it is occurring.

This is a Gaeltacht community, an area in which there is a large number of scholars who come from various parts of the island to learn the Irish language. It is welcome to see so many people in the area. When pipes burst, householders are unable to meet basic requirements such as the provision of cooking facilities. In some houses old style ranges are used to provide heat. The water flows behind the range and when there is no water flowing, it is not possible to turn on the range, cook dinner for students or wash linen or clothes. This causes serious problems for the mná tí when, for example, there are 12 scholars staying in one house.

In this day and age there should not be such a weak system as that in place in Magheraroarty. I have spoken to senior officials within the county council who have informed me that if one digs out a pipe and examines it, it is like paper in that one can put one's fingers through it. That is an indication that the pipes are in bad condition. We are aware that the pipe infrastructure is bad in other areas also, but this area is first on the council's list of priorities and the pipes need to be replaced. I acknowledge that €2.9 million is earmarked for pipe replacement in County Donegal but phases 1 to 3, inclusive, of all the schemes have to be completed before the money can be drawn down for any scheme to proceed to phase 3, which is pipe replacement. Although phase 1 has been completed across the county, phase 2 will take some time and we cannot wait because all the departmental and local authority officials and public representatives know this. While Senator Ó Domhnaill who also represents the county is not present, I am sure he shares my views on this and supports my call.

We need to remove the red tape. A sum of €200,000 has been allocated for the Rosses regional network, which is near the Magheroarty network. However, €378,000 is required to ensure proper pipe replacement can be done on this short but important stretch of the public water network. Money has been allocated by the Government on the basis that all phases must be completed on a county basis but we need to cut through the red tape, which people on the ground do not understand. Pipes in the Magheroarty network have burst seven times in two months and will probably do so again in the next few weeks. Can the money required be secured out of the allocation of €2.9 million earmarked for pipe replacement or through additional funding, including the €200,000 allocated for the nearby network so that this necessary infrastructure, which is the No. 1 priority of the county council can be sorted for the benefit of all those living in the Magheroarty catchment area?

I remind Senator Doherty that there is no obligation on Senator Ó Domhnaill to be present. This is an Adjournment debate.

I appreciate that. I have just informed the Minister that I have no doubt the Senator will support the initiative because he has made similar public comments in the past.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue, which relates to water conservation works, which are a priority under my Department's water services investment programme. The main objectives of the water conservation programme are to reduce water loss in the public supply networks; to obtain value for money by deferring capital expenditure on new water supply schemes through improved supply and reduced consumption; and to ensure environmental protection by deferring the need to develop new water sources.

There are three distinct stages to water conservation on public water supply schemes. First, a local authority must put in place a water management system that enables the authority to monitor water use and loss throughout the supply networks. Second, the authority must establish an active leakage control programme which involves locating and fixing leaks and, based on the results of these two stages, it must establish a prioritised pipe rehabilitation strategy for its area. The third and final stage is the rehabilitation and replacement of defective supply networks where repair has proven to be uneconomic due to the age or condition of the pipes.

Over the past decade funding has been provided to local authorities to carry out water conservation works, mainly for the first two elements I have outlined. It has led to reductions in unaccounted for water, improved knowledge of the condition of water distribution networks and consumption patterns and an improvement in the level and quality of supply to consumers. Exchequer spending on water conservation over the past ten years amounted to €168 million. This investment provides the platform for intensive investment in mains rehabilitation, which is a key priority under the Water Services Investment Programme 2010-2012. This programme is based on needs assessments carried out by local authorities who prioritised key contracts and schemes in this area; with a requirement to give top priority to water conservation works as an alternative to new infrastructure provision. A greater proportion of the fundsavailable annually under the programme is being assigned specifically to water conservationworks.

The programme, which was published in April 2010, was drawn up to deal with a number of environmental and economic priorities, including the need for increased water treatment capacity. The programme also places a greater emphasis on water conservation, providing for network rehabilitation contracts with a total value of €321 million to commence in the period 2010-2012. Reducing unaccounted for water is an important element in maximising the output from our water treatment plants and funding has been targeted at areas where the level of unaccounted for water is unacceptably high. As a general rule, and in the interests of securing best value for money from Exchequer investment, my Department does not authorise a local authority to undertake mains rehabilitation works unless it has largely implemented the water management and leakage control works necessary throughout its functional area and has completed its strategy for mains rehabilitation on a prioritised county-wide basis.

I understand water mains rehabilitation works in the Magheroarty area of Donegal are being prioritised by Donegal County Council for inclusion in the water mains rehabilitation project phase 1 contract, for which I have indicated that funding will be available under the Water Services Investment Programme 2010-2012. My Department is awaiting Donegal County Council's tender documents for the work, including details of all areas to be covered by these priority works. Once Donegal County Council's submission for the phase 1 water mains rehabilitation contract is received there will be no undue delay in my Department in ensuring that the work gets to construction in the shortest time.

Donegal County Council has to monitor the entire county before it can secure approval to deal with its first priority and the problem is it takes time to monitor water loss throughout the county. A report can only be provided over a six-month period and not overnight. Seven times over the past two months, the pipes have burst in the Magheroarty area and people have been left without water. Is the Department flexible regarding this "no-brainer" in Donegal? This mains needs to be replaced entirely and the Minister of State can ask any engineer, official or local authority or Oireachtas Member about that. Everybody in Donegal who knows of this area recognises this. Will officials and the Minister be flexible and acknowledge this is an exceptional case and that phase 1 for the entire county does not need to be completed before dealing with this emergency? I appreciate the Minister of State may be unable to give a reply now but if there was willingness to examine this issue with a little flexibility, it would be beneficial. There would be no additional cost to the Revenue because, at the end of the day, this project will be undertaken. Unfortunately, under the existing rules, it will only be done when the entire county has been reported on. Between now and then, more residents in the area will be discommoded by the inevitable leaks in the system.

My Department is awaiting the tender documents and the necessary supporting information from Donegal County Council. When that arrives, and even if it arrives tomorrow, I assure the Senator it will be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

On a point of order, I asked two supplementary questions.

That is not a point of order. In addition, there is no provision for supplementary questions. They are at the discretion of the Chair.

Do the tender documents relate to the Magheroarty project or to phase 1 for the entire county?