On 8 February this year, I announced details of the measures being funded through my Department under the Multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2019-2021. 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.
There is a two-strand approach to the considerations of the Working Group. Strand 1 considered the composition and distribution of funding for the Multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2019-2021, while Strand 2 is considering the more complex longer-focus issues surrounding the long-term future resourcing of the rural water sector.
Capital funding of €23 million had been provided in 2019 for the Programme, an increase €3 million on that provided in 2018. A total of €75 million has been committed to the Programme under the National Development Plan from 2019 to 2021.
The 2019-2021 funding cycle of the Programme 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 (Irish Water) 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 wastewater collection system.
Strand 2 of the considerations by the Working Group is currently underway and I expect a further report later in 2019. The wastewater infrastructure needs of rural towns and villages is an issue that the Working Group is to examine further.
The Water Services Acts 2007 to 2017 already provide the necessary statutory framework for the delivery of water services. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of public water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels.
In May 2018 the Government approved the Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025 and shortly after Irish Water submitted its Strategic Funding Plan 2019-2024 to my Department. The Strategic Funding Plan, which I have approved, details Irish Water’s multi-annual strategic funding requirement of €11 billion to 2024, comprising of a €6.1 billion investment in infrastructure and assets and €4.9 billion in operating costs.
Irish Water will also play a key role in implementing Project Ireland 2040 which was published in February 2018 and incorporates the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the National Development Plan. Irish Water will take account of and support on-going work in developing subsidiary strategies to assist in implementing the NPF including the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies as well as ongoing reviews of County Development Plans and Local Area Plans.
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 NPF. 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 its Investment Plan to 2024. Irish Water is to work with Local Authorities across the country in ensuring the investment is made where it is needed most, aligned to core strategies. I understand that it is being proposed that the overall national budget for this Programme would be allocated between counties, based on an identified need against set criteria.
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 and a decision is expected from the CRU in the second half of 2019. Subject to the outcome of this process it will then be a matter for Irish Water to progress its proposals in relation to the Small Towns and Villages Growth Programme.