Shakespeare also wrote "hell is empty and all the devils are here". I mean that in a respectful way, of course. I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in this debate and to propose the Government's amendment to the motion in response to what I believe is an ill-conceived Fianna Fáil motion. This debate presents an opportunity to outline the real improvements that Irish Water has already made to the public water and wastewater systems through increased investment and new approaches to services and infrastructure delivery. In moving towards a more sustainable model for funding investment in water services, the debate tonight will remind the House that these improvements are addressing the many legacies of underinvestment in water and wastewater networks - legacies inherited from the many years of underinvestment by the previous Administration. It is an opportunity to outline the work that remains to be done, which is vital for the protection of public health, economic growth and the environment. By investing more in the public water system and by standardising how services are delivered and assets are managed, Irish Water is improving water quality, making water supplies more secure and reliable and increasing wastewater treatment - progress we can all agree is critical for local communities and local and national economic well-being.
Let me dispel any Opposition claim about lack of extra investment in water services. Some of those arguments were rehearsed here tonight. They are, frankly, untrue. Since the national utility assumed responsibility in 2014, Irish Water has increased investment significantly. In 2013, local authorities invested approximately €300 million through the water services investment programme. In its first year alone, Irish Water invested €343 million. This increased to €411 million last year. That is a 37% increase in investment in just two years. This year, Irish Water expects to invest €500 million in the network. The actual figures do not lie.
The increased investment by Irish Water which has contributed to improvements in water quality, supply and wastewater treatment has not been curtailed by EUROSTAT's decision last year to categorise Irish Water expenditure as Government expenditure. There has been no change to the planned level of investment or level of water charges. Irish Water's capital investment plan for 2014 to 2016 remains unchanged from that included in the baseline forecasts in the stability programme update and the spring economic statement last year. Irish Water continues to be funded by a combination of external debt, Government contributions and revenue from customers. This investment is critical if we are to address the legacies of decades of under-investment that Irish Water faced when it became the national water services authority in January 2014.
Let me recap for the Fianna Fáil Members who seem to be suffering from selective amnesia, the legacy left behind by the previous Government. This included the reality of approximately 945,000 people being dependent on drinking water supplies requiring remedial action; almost 20,000 people on boil water notices, which was an abject disgrace; 49% of all water produced lost on leakage; and 44 urban areas throughout Ireland seeing untreated sewage going into rivers and seas, posing a major risk to public health and the environment.
This is Fianna Fáil's legacy of underinvestment. Irish Water's investment has since delivered 24 new treatment plants, 20 for wastewater, four for drinking water, as well as 32 upgrades. Up to 750 km of pipework has been replaced or upgraded, representing a saving of 32 million litres of water per day.
For too many people, particularly in County Roscommon, the reality of having to boil water before using it for drinking or cleaning had become all too familiar. For the residents of Castlerea, for example, boiling water before use was a regular daily occurrence from November 2009 to June 2013. I am pleased to report that last year, 17,300 people in Roscommon no longer had to boil water coming out of their taps. This is real progress making a difference to people's lives; progress in which Irish Water's expertise and work has been instrumental. The number of people dependent on water supplies listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s remedial action list of works requiring remediation has reduced significantly from a high of almost 945,000 two years ago to 770,000 today.
Irish Water's domestic metering programme is additional capital investment to the main investment figure outlined earlier. In a programme of scale and ambition unmatched anywhere, Irish Water has installed close to 804,000 meters in less than two and a half years. Three quarters of all homes to be metered under phase one of the programme can measure how much water they use. I must compliment the contractors on the ground on the way in which they have performed their work with great dignity and commitment in an often difficult and sometimes threatening environment. Nobody going about their daily work should have to experience that. As well as facilitating metered charging, which the OECD and others have deemed the fairest form of charging, meters are incentivising customers to conserve water and are assisting in the detection of customer-side leakage, which Irish Water estimates accounts for 6% of all water produced.
Through metering's identification of customer-side leakage, Irish Water has been able to offer householders a first-fix repair scheme. Meter data enable the utility to alert householders to significant leaks within a householders' property. Before this, local authorities did not have the capacity to do this. Where the leak is between the boundary of a property and that of a house, Irish Water has offered to repair the most significant leaks it has encountered. In addition, more than 2,200 customers, through Irish Water's leak notifications, have undertaken repairs of leaks internal to the house.
Between Irish Water and customer repairs, 28 million litres of water are now being saved per day. When added to the 32 million litres per day being saved through pipework replacement in the past two years, 60 million litres of potable water is being saved daily. To put this in context, Cork city requires 62 million litres of water per day. Irish Water's conservation focus in the past two and a half years is already equivalent to the daily water needs of our second city. The better management of our existing water supply infrastructure in this way will provide medium-term capital investment savings. It makes far more sense to save existing water than to build new plants without addressing leakage on both the public mains and customer sides.
Another benefit from the metering programme has been the identification of possible lead piping in householders' properties. The problem of exposure to lead in drinking water is a legacy of lead piping used in the construction of houses built up to and including the 1970s. Though the issue is in the main the responsibility of individual householders, as all lead piping has been replaced in the public network, sustained exposure is a possible health risk, particularly to pregnant women, the unborn and newborn babies and young toddlers. For this reason, last June the Government published a strategy to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water. Irish Water is playing its part in implementing the strategy. It has written to 27,000 households informing them of the likely presence of lead piping in their property and provided them with customer advice on dealing with the issue, including health advice from the HSE. Again, the effectiveness of this first national strategy on the issue is enhanced by the data available from the domestic metering programme.
In parallel with increased investment, Irish Water has introduced new approaches to asset management and maintenance. For Irish Water, asset management underpins its infrastructural investment with central strategic planning now based on accurate data on asset performance and full control of all investment decisions. It plans investment consistently across the asset base rather than on the basis of large scale, one-off investments. This approach, including the use of new technologies, for five major projects alone, including the Ringsend wastewater treatment plant upgrade, is expected to result in savings of €240 million. That is equivalent to the entire Exchequer funding of capital investment in the network in 2013.
In terms of asset maintenance, Irish Water has commenced a major programme to repair known defects across the public water system, including national programmes of disinfection, pH correction and chemical optimisation for drinking water treatment. Similar programmes are under way for wastewater treatment, along with work to control trade and abnormal discharges to public sewers.
Irish Water has made a significant contribution already to bringing water services up to the standard that its customers demand. It has made important improvements to the quality and supply of drinking water. It has begun addressing the large deficit in wastewater treatment. It has introduced new initiatives and systems to standardise services, manage assets and plan new infrastructural builds with a national approach. For the first time, we have a national water services strategic plan in place with a 25-year time horizon, coupled with Irish Water’s business plan for 2014 to 2021, which demonstrates how the objectives will be delivered in the immediate period ahead. Increased investment, one of the main aims of the Government's reform programme, has enabled some of these improvements, but the national utility approach has also been crucial. The introduction of domestic water charges - more modest than what Fianna Fáil had planned to impose - was necessary and has contributed to the increase in investment through providing a sustainable long-term funding model through the creation of a direct link between the usage of water services and payment for them.
Irish Water has an ambitious programme of work to tackle the ongoing legacies of underinvestment. Its business plan contains important goals to reach by 2021 such as lifting all current boil water notices; eliminating the risk of drinking water contamination for people currently on supplies in the EPA's remedial action list; ending the discharge of untreated wastewater at 44 locations; reducing leakage from 49% to 38%, saving 180 million litres every day; implementing the national lead strategy to reduce risk of contamination in up to 140,000 homes and an additional 40,000 homes on shared services; and significantly increasing water and wastewater capacity to support social and economic development, including 15% spare capacity in Dublin.
A critical underpinning of the business plan is the achievement of efficiencies, namely, €1.1 billion in operational costs and €500 million in capital spending. These efficiencies are driven by the holistic and asset management approach to delivery of water services through the national utility model. This addresses the problems of the previous delivery model which involved a fragmented system with many ways of working, a lack of economies of scale and insufficient integration between operational and capital investment decisions, which impacted particularly on capital maintenance, leading to underperformance and deterioration of existing assets. I remember when I was on Louth County Council along with Senators Jim D’Arcy and Terry Brennan, we had to go cap in hand to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, begging for moneys to address infrastructural deficits in water supply services.