I propose to take Questions Nos. 1374 and 1376 together.
The provisions of the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services have now been largely legislated for, as required, in the Water Services Act 2017. Promoting the efficient and sustainable use of water is central to my Department’s water policy. The Government's Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025, as published in May last year, sets out the range of policy objectives across the key thematic areas of quality, conservation and future proofing that will be pursued between now and 2025.
Reflecting the provisions contained in the Water Services Act 2017 and, in line with the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee, the Policy Statement supports the promotion of water conservation and water resource management as an important element of water services policy that is to be reflected in strategic investment planning by Irish Water. For the period of the Policy Statement, this will involve the prioritisation of multifaceted programmes around leak detection and repair, network improvements, cost effective metering, public awareness campaigns and funding to fix customer side leaks. The National Leakage Reduction Programme in particular includes investment of some €250 million over the next four years under the Find and Fix repair scheme and the Water Mains Rehabilitation programme.
Legislative provision to discourage the excessive use of water services was included in the Water Services Act 2017. Excessive usage is determined by reference to the threshold amount of 213,000 litres per household per annum as specified by ministerial order with effect from 1 January 2018, in line with provisions contained in sections 8 and 9 of the Water Services Act 2017.
Irish Water is responsible for developing and implementing the necessary administrative arrangements, including billing arrangements, subject to oversight and approval by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU). The amount to be charged will be determined by the CRU and the process that is to lead to a decision in this regard has now commenced.
Once administrative arrangements and charges have been approved by the CRU, Irish Water will be in a position later this year to notify relevant customers who, having regard to their consumption patterns during 2018, appear to be consuming water services excessively and therefore potentially liable for excessive usage charges. Only customers who continue to consume water services excessively during the six month period following receipt of a formal notice in this way, will become liable for charges to cover excessive usage during the six month notice period and any subsequent periods.
The overall aim is to encourage water conservation rather than to generate revenue. On this basis, I understand that Irish Water will work proactively with relevant customers to identify whatever practical steps may be necessary in order to address their situation and bring their consumption back within the threshold level. Additional allowance amounts for water usage will be available to larger households (where the number of residents exceeds four) and exemptions will be available in cases of medical need.
The Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee recommended a proactive approach to promoting awareness of water conservation, and Irish Water places a strong emphasis on this important area. A dedicated section on the Irish Water website provides information in relation to water conservation at www.water.ie/bewatersmart. The content includes suggested lifestyle changes to save water and information on how to check for water leaks in the home. Information is also available on water saving devices outside of the home, including rainwater butts and rainwater reuse for the farming sector.
Irish Water’s website also has a facility where members of the public can report leaks in public areas. Based on the information provided, Irish Water will follow up to confirm a leak on the public mains and complete a repair.
Irish Water supports a number of environmental education campaigns which raise awareness, promote understanding and encourage people to take action on water conservation issues. This includes the Green Schools Programme, which has delivered savings of 360 million litres of water in schools in one year alone. Irish Water has also engaged with primary and secondary schools as part of Engineers Ireland’s Engineers Week, to increase knowledge and awareness of water conservation and its benefits to the environment.
Irish Water has undertaken a research study to provide an in-depth understanding of household water usage. The insights will help guide the roll out of product and behavioural interventions to improve water conservation in Ireland. Key findings show that, in general, people agree with the need to value and conserve water. These research findings are providing recommendations for behavioural change and water saving devices inside the home.
The Water Services Policy Statement is expected to influence all stakeholders, including An Fóram Uisce, which has a specific advisory role in relation to water conservation under the Water Services Act 2017. Having regard to its statutory role, the Policy Statement provides that An Fóram Uisce will also consider the recommendations in respect of water conservation included in the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee, with a view to identifying practical steps for their implementation.