Obstacles are being put in front of Irish Water such as in Lough Talt in Sligo where it is willing to put in a new system to upgrade the water quality because of the danger of trihalomethanes, THMs. Water has been extracted here for 30 or 40 years by Sligo County Council but now, because of new regulations and even though the same water is coming out today, the council will not give Irish Water an extraction licence, which is absolutely crazy.
Water pipes remained safe but if anything was learned from the storm in the last few days it was that there was a problem with electricity not being restored quickly. Obviously, reservoirs would not be big enough to keep many parts of the country going for a few days, especially in large urban areas. We were caught out in a few places. This should have been done years ago. It is not just about Irish Water in that the councils should have backup generators to ensure we were able to keep the flow of water going. This is one lesson that needs to be learned from the storm in certain areas. In fairness, however, people have been on the ball and things are up and running again in most regions. I believe it was an oversight.
Maintenance of the lines is also an issue. Down through the years it is the one thing that has not been done. Anybody who understands the water system will know that one must scour the lines. This is the cleaning of the lines from A to B to C right to the end of the pipe. Unfortunately, in Ireland we do not seem to have a proper programme for doing this. Many places appear to be understaffed; they are busy doing connections or making sure other problems are sorted. Line maintenance, however, does not seem to be done. This is why Deputies get calls from people telling us about dirty water or little molecules in their water. The lack of line maintenance is the reason for this. If it was done on a three-monthly basis, four times per year, we would have absolutely no problem in many cases. It has not been done down through the years; it is not only now. A proper programme needs to be set up.
I have worked in the water sector for many years and Ervia gives the impression that the paperwork seems to have multiplied by a thousand. From my understanding of the Bord Gáis Energy side of Ervia, they love paperwork also. The Department should make sure we address this situation. There are many smaller contractors in the State who, because of the recession, would not have had a big turnover in recent years. The money was not being spent. They then had to reach certain thresholds to tender for contracts. In so doing, we were cutting it down to just a few contractors. I believe this is by design. The small contractors covered all the group water schemes and the public schemes right around the State. There may have been ten in each county. These smaller contractors are now being sidelined and are being made into sub-contractors, because one big crowd has taken it over. This costs more money because everyone has to have a slice of the loaf. We should make sure that everybody is given an opportunity. We must remember the amount of work that has to be done and that it will give employment to areas. There are water pipes everywhere around the country and it will give employment to people in all regions but the culture of paperwork is an issue. When I worked in the water sector, I remember bringing pipes right around Ireland and I saw some of the biggest pipelines being laid.
Nowadays, the volume of paperwork required to be completed before even a bucket is put in the ground is so unbelievable people are tearing their hair out over it. We need to look at how our processes can be simplified.
Another issue is the delay in the granting of permission to order equipment such as pumps and so on. While most small operations would have at least one spare pump and larger ones would often have two often by the time permission is granted to order a new one the spare one is also out of action and panic ensues. This is pure stupidity in terms of how the process operates.
I would like the Department, and in particular the Minister, to address a situation in the west. Decisions on group water schemes by Galway County Council have slowed down dramatically. I am not blaming the council for this. I understand that owing to absences due to illness and staff transferring to other areas of work within the council there is only a skeleton staff in Galway County Council. In one case involving an upgrade of a group water scheme, all of the paperwork is done, the contractor is in place and ready to go but three months on, the project still has not been given the go-ahead. This should not be happening and it must be addressed. In another scheme, a massive leak has been identified. This scheme is fed by a public scheme. A consultant was hired to complete all of the paperwork and everything is ready to go but the letter giving the go-ahead for this work is not forthcoming. The longer the delay the more water is wasted. In Ballyhard, which is just outside of Glenamaddy, a leak was identified almost nine months ago. The go-ahead for work to commence on the installation of valves in the roads where the leaks are occurring is still awaited. This needs to be addressed. What is happening is a disgrace. I accept that there will always be staffing issues in councils but we need to ensure that there is sufficient staff in place in all of our councils to deal with the group water scheme sector.
Another issue that I would like to be addressed by the Department, in respect of which it can work with the communities, is the provision of funding for sewerage systems in small towns. To be blunt, there is raw sewerage going into many of the rivers in our small towns. Communities will work with the council, including through the community involvement scheme. Communities are willing to work with the councils. This funding needs to be provided, such that we can focus on improving our water quality.
The delay in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment making a decision on the slurry situation, which forced farmers to spread slurry on a plain of water, will result in a worsening of water quality throughout Ireland. As a result of the rigamarole that went on in the Department around prioritisation for inspections and payments, many farmers would not even contact the Department. The Department will do everything in its own time, let us not cod ourselves about that. The slurry has to be spread but the manner in which the Department dealt with the matter was a disgrace.
The issue of upgrading group water schemes needs to be urgently addressed. I hope that the National Federation of Group Water Schemes will properly represent its members and ensure that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. In other words, it must ensure that people on the group water schemes are given the same hearing as the people on the public supply.
There is another situation emerging throughout the country in regard to septic tanks. A person whose septic tank is joined up to the main sewerage system is not charged for that pipe work. There is a grant system in place in regard to septic tanks in rural areas but let us be clear that the grant system pertains only to the 5% the EU wants us to look at. Outside of that, people are being screwed for €10,000 to €15,000, which in my opinion is disgraceful. We need to ensure that we alleviate the pressure and hardship on such people. I have met pensioners who are barely surviving yet they are being told they have to install fancy treatment plants and have other jobs carried out that cost €10,000 to €15,000. For a person living in Connemara, where one would have to bring in clay etc., the cost could be €20,000. If we are to be fair to all people, this must be addressed.