The Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme 2016-2018 was developed through a working group of key stakeholders involving local authorities, the Water Services Transition Office, Irish Water and the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, as well as my Department. The programme provides for the funding of demonstration group sewerage schemes, through measure 4(d), where clustering of households on individual septic tanks is not a viable option, particularly from an environmental perspective.
Local authorities were invited in January 2016 to submit bids under the programme. The invitation envisaged no more than two demonstration group sewerage projects being brought forward under the measure in any one year of the three-year programme. The demonstrations will allow my Department, over the course of the programme, to determine the appropriate enduring funding levels and relationship with the current grant scheme.
My Department is currently addressing the recommendations contained in the April 2017 report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services as they relate to the rural water sector. In this regard, in April 2018, I established a Working Group to conduct a wider review of the investment needs of rural water services. In addition to my Department, the Working Group comprises: the Department of Rural and Community Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Health Service Executive, the National Federation of Group Water Schemes and the County and City Management Association.
The Working Group, which has met twice to date, is considering how best to position and resource water services in rural areas so that they can contribute further to the development and long-term sustainability of a comprehensive and cohesive rural water sector that will have the capacity to produce quality outcomes comparable to those available to customers of public water services.
The Working Group is focusing on the actions required to improve and sustain rural water services, and will consider issues such as governance, supervision and monitoring of the sector, in addition to capital investment priorities and requirements across all elements of rural water services. In keeping with the Joint Oireachtas Committee’s recommendation this Working Group is considering the investment needs of all elements of rural water services including Group Sewerage Schemes.
The terms of reference of the review provide that there will be a two-strand approach to the considerations of the Working Group. Strand 1 will consider the composition and distribution of funding for the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme from 2019 up to 2021, while Strand 2 will consider the more complex longer-focus issues surrounding the long-term future resourcing of the rural water sector. It is intended that by the end of July the Working Group will produce a summary report on Strand 1 of its deliberations which will outline the rationale for funding priorities for the next cycle of the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme up to 2021. At that time the Working Group will also set out time frames for its consideration of, and reporting, on the more complex longer-focus Strand 2 matters.