I propose to take Questions Nos. 309 and 311 together.
With effect from 1 January 2014, Irish Water is responsible for public water services. The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides that Irish Water can collect charges from each customer in receipt of water services provided by it. The Act also provides that responsibility for the independent economic regulation of the water sector is assigned to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) and the CER has been given statutory responsibility for protecting the interests of customers.
Under the European Communities (Drinking Water) Regulations 2014, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas library, suppliers of drinking water are required to ensure that the water supplied is wholesome and clean. Water which is wholesome and clean is defined as water which is free from any micro-organisms and parasites and from any substances which in numbers or concentrations constitute a potential danger to human health, and which meets the quality standards specified in the Schedule to the Regulations.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the supervisory authority with responsibility for monitoring Irish Water’s compliance with these Regulations. In the event of non-compliance with the quality standards set out in the Regulations, the water supplier will investigate the cause in consultation with the EPA and, if a potential risk to human health exists, with the Health Service Executive, to ensure that the appropriate remedial action is taken. This may include the prohibition or the restriction (e.g. a boil water notice) of the supply by the water supplier. The EPA publishes an annual report on the quality of drinking water supplies in Ireland, which sets out details on the numbers of water restrictions and boil water notices. Copies of these reports are available in the Oireachtas library or from the EPA website (http://www.epa.ie).
I intend to use my powers under the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 to issue a Water Charges Policy Direction to the CER in relation to a number of matters relating to domestic water charges including where the quality of water services provided by Irish Water to customers is impaired or where services are reduced or restricted. Neither hard water nor the substances associated with hard water, such as lime, calcium and magnesium, require the restriction of a supply.
The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 requires the CER to perform its functions in a manner that best serves the interests of the customers of Irish Water. This is similar to the CER’s statutory role in respect of the gas and electricity sectors. I fully expect that the CER will consider compliance with statutory standards by Irish Water in the discharge of its functions.