In late 2017, my Department conducted a review of group water schemes' subsidies. The review involved discussions with the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, the representative body of the group water sector. Discussions concluded in December, when I approved revised subsidy levels. The new subsidy arrangements, endorsed by a special delegate conference of the Federation on 13 December 2017, came into effect on 1 January 2018.
The changes implement the recommendation contained in the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services (JOCFFDWS), endorsed by both Houses of the Oireachtas in April 2017, that there be equity of treatment and equivalent financial support between households using public water services and those availing of private water services.
The revised subsidy levels are as follows:
1) For the annual subsidy towards the operation and maintenance costs of group water schemes providing a supply of water for domestic purposes (knows as ‘Subsidy A’):
The maximum subsidy per house in private group water schemes has increased from €140 per household to €231. An increased maximum subsidy of €281 per household is available for small schemes of less than 100 houses that are willing, in the interests of providing in the long-term a more sustainable water supply to their members, to progress towards rationalisation or amalgamation with other schemes.
The maximum subsidy per house for public group water schemes has increased from €70 per household to €115. These are schemes that supply their members with water that is provided by Irish Water.
The portion of costs than can be recouped by group water schemes has also increased. Typically up to 60% of costs have been covered by the subsidy payments. This has increased to 85%. There are also changes and simplifications to how these costs are assessed.
2) For the additional subsidy that is paid towards the costs of group water schemes that have long-term Operation and Maintenance Contracts (for example, as part of a Design Build Operate project) for the delivery of water (known as ‘Subsidy B)’:
There has been an increase in the level of volumetric costs incurred by group water schemes operating under these contracts that is recoupable, from 60% to 85%. This will allow for a greater portion of costs to be included within the subsidy payment.
In addition to the above, my Department is currently finalising proposals to increase the level of grant support for users of private wells, details of which I will be announcing shortly.
Separate to the initial review of group water scheme subsidy levels and also in fulfilment of the JOCFFDWS recommendations, I will shortly be establishing a working group to conduct a wider review of investment needs and rural water services. The review will focus on issues such as governance, supervision and monitoring of the sector, and capital investment requirements. It is anticipated that this group would engage with relevant stakeholders and will aim to complete its work by mid-2018.
Cognisance will be taken in this regard of any required measures to support the implementation of the finalised River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021, which I plan to finalise and publish early this year.