Water quality deficiencies in the group water scheme sector are mainly confined to schemes serving some 3.5% of households nationally that abstract supplies from private sources, such as rivers, lakes and boreholes. Water is generally supplied to the 46,000 households involved without prior treatment or disinfection.
The National Rural Water Monitoring Committee, which is representative of the local authorities, the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, the rural organisations and my own Department, has produced an Action Plan for Rural Drinking Water Quality 2003 — 2006 that has as its objective the urgent upgrading of water quality in privately sourced group water schemes.
The action plan sets out a strategy for bringing substandard schemes up to the required standard through connections to local authority systems, the taking in charge of individual schemes by local authorities and, where these options are not practicable, the provision of on-site water treatment and disinfection facilities. Grants of up to 100% of cost are available to group schemes for treatment and disinfection facilities. An 85% grant, subject to a maximum of €6,475 per house, is payable for related civil works such as buildings, reservoirs and pipelines, and for upgrading works and connections to public supplies.
A sum of €644 million has been provided under the National Development Plan 2000 — 2006 for the upgrading of rural water infrastructure, particularly privately sourced group water schemes. Last year I allocated a record €100 million for the 2003 rural water programme. I will shortly announce details of the 2004 block grant allocations to county councils under that programme. The National Rural Water Monitoring Committee's action plan acknowledges the adequacy of the NDP funding available for the rural water programme and identifies the key issue now as one of logistics and speed of implementation.
In accordance with the action plan strategy, there are currently 16 projects, involving some 176 individual group water schemes serving around 30,000 households, at construction or at an advanced stage of planning. A further five projects, involving 69 group schemes serving over 6,000 households, are at an earlier stage in the planning process. Proposals to resolve the water quality deficiencies in the remainder of the schemes concerned are being advanced as rapidly as possible.