Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. I understand that Irish Water will be bringing forward proposals for a Small Towns and Villages Growth Programme which will support a number of the National Policy Objectives and National Strategic Outcomes under the National Planning Framework. The Small Towns and Villages Growth Programme is intended to provide water and wastewater growth capacity in smaller settlements which would not otherwise be provided for in Irish Water’s Investment Plan. Irish Water will work with local authorities across the country in ensuring the investment is made where it is needed most, aligned to local authority core strategies.
Irish Water is subject to regulation by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU). The proposals from Irish Water in this regard form part of the submissions from Irish Water to the CRU on its detailed investment plans under the Irish Water Investment Plan 2020 to 2024. These submissions are currently being considered by the CRU and a decision is expected from the CRU in the second half of 2019.
In addition, my Department notified local authorities on 8 February 2019 of the measures being funded under the Multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2019 to 2021. The composition of the new multi-annual programme is based on recommendations from the Working Group that I established in April 2018 to conduct a review of investment needs and rural water services. The Working Group, which is chaired by my Department, includes the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, Environmental Protection Agency, Health Service Executive, Department of Rural and Community Development and local authorities, through the County and City Management Association. It has also consulted with other key stakeholders, including Irish Water.
The 2019-2021 funding cycle consists of eight measures. Most are further broken into sub-measures. These measures reflect the key challenges currently facing the rural water sector.
Measure 6, Community Connections (Water and Wastewater), facilitates the continued expansion of the coverage of piped water supplies and central wastewater collection systems by extension off the public network. It includes a sub-measure, Community Connection: Wastewater Network. This sub-measure will support wastewater collection for population clusters, currently on deficient individual wastewater treatment systems (septic tanks), immediately adjacent to towns and villages, through the development of community wastewater connection networks as extensions to the existing public (Irish Water) wastewater collection system.
The Working Group is continuing its work and is now considering the more complex longer-focus issues surrounding the long-term future resourcing of the rural water sector. I expect a further report from the Group later in 2019. The long-term needs of rural towns and villages in respect of wastewater infrastructure is something that I expect the Working Group will be examining in this phase of its work.