Details of the measures being funded under the Multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2019 to 2021 were notified to local authorities by my Department on 8 February 2019. This included a funding measure to support community connections to the public network operated by Irish Water. The composition of the new multi-annual programme is based on recommendations from the Working Group that I established in April 2018 to conduct a review of investment needs and rural water services. The Working Group, which is chaired by my Department, includes the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, Environmental Protection Agency, Health Service Executive, Department of Rural and Community Development and local authorities, through the County and City Management Association. It has also consulted with other key stakeholders, including Irish Water.
There is a two-strand approach to the considerations of the Working Group. Strand 1 addressed the composition and distribution of funding for the Multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2019-2021, while Strand 2 is considering the more complex longer-focus issues surrounding the long-term future resourcing of the rural water sector.
Based on the recommendations of the Working Group, which took into account the lessons learnt in the first multi-annual funding cycle 2016-2018 as well as the ongoing developments in the wider water services sector, I approved the multi-annual programme for the 2019-2021 cycle. The 2019-2021 funding cycle consists of eight measures. Most are further broken into sub-measures. These measures reflect the key challenges currently facing the rural water sector.
Measure 6, Community Connections (Water and Wastewater), facilitates the continued expansion of the coverage of piped water supplies and central wastewater collection systems by extension off the public network. It includes a sub-measure, Community Connection: Wastewater Network. This sub-measure will support wastewater collection for population clusters, currently on deficient individual wastewater treatment systems (septic tanks), immediately adjacent to towns and villages, through the development of community wastewater connection networks as extensions to the existing public (Irish Water) wastewater collection system.
There is significant cost involved in delivering, and particular professional skills needed to operate, a sewerage scheme. The operation by community-based groups of their own sewage treatment facilities, which are technically more complex than group water treatment facilities, has not been included under the Rural Water Programme. This is because of the difficulties for voluntary groups in managing and maintaining such facilities in the long term. The relevant sub-measure under the Programme is therefore designed with this in mind.
Strand 2 of the considerations by the Working Group is currently underway and I expect a further report later in 2019. The long-term needs of rural towns and villages in respect of wastewater infrastructure is something that I expect the Working Group will be examining in this phase of its work.
Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. I understand that Irish Water will be bringing forward proposals for a Small Towns and Villages Growth Programme which will support a number of the National Policy Objectives and National Strategic Outcomes under the National Planning Framework. The Small Towns and Villages Growth Programme is intended to provide water and wastewater growth capacity in smaller settlements which would not otherwise be provided for in Irish Water’s Investment Plan. Irish Water will work with local authorities across the country in ensuring the investment is made where it is needed most, aligned to local authority core strategies.
Irish Water is subject to regulation by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU). The proposals from Irish Water in this regard form part of the submissions from Irish Water to the CRU on its detailed investment plans under the Irish Water Investment Plan 2020 to 2024. These submissions are currently being considered by the CRU and a decision is expected from the CRU in the second half of 2019.