Proposals to reintroduce domestic water charges, with new water meters being installed in every home in the State, are to be brought to Government in about two weeks.
The proposals – which were approved in principle as part of the Budget – will be brought forward by Minister for the Environment John Gormley.
However the Minister admitted today it is unlikely that water metering will be in place by June 2012 – which means domestic water charges will not be reintroduced before the next general election.
Mr Gormley acknowledged taht the insisting the charges would be politically unpopular but insisted they were necessary. “I think everybody who understands the environment … they know that this is an absolute necessity,” he said. “You just can’t go putting your head in the sand on these issues any longer. Water is a precious resource.
“All the evidence shows that when you actually charge for water people conserve it, people use it wisely.”
He would not be drawn on how much each of Ireland’s 1.1 million households would be charged but said a speculated figure of €400 per household was wide of the mark. He pointed to other EU countries as a possible indicator.
Mr Gormley revealed his plans as part of his announcement of a “reprioritising” of the €1.8 billion Water Services Investment Programme for the next three years.
The reprioritised programme will now give priority to projects which target environmental compliance issues, in a bid to avoid the imposition of fines by the European Commission, and achieve sustainable supplies.
The Minister stressed Ireland had not yet been fined by the EU for its confirmed breaches of the Water Framework Directive, a feature he said was as a result of the Government’s openness to take whatever remedial steps were necessary.
The programme will also target repairs to the water networks to eliminate waste and protect water basins. It is estimated that “lost” water ranges from 16 per cent to 58 per cent of supplies across the State. The programme provides €320 million over the three year period for remedial works.
A much greater emphasis on water conservation through the introduction of water metering and inducements for householders to cut down on usage, also forms a significant part of the new programme.
Mr Gormley told a press conference today he did not believe it made sense, from an economic or environmental perspective, “to invest in expanding water treatment capacity if there is a significant loss of treated water in damaged or aging networks”.
Mr Gormley said in January the Government intends to raise as much as €1 billion per annum from water metering charges when they are introduced.
Labour today welcomed the investment programme but said it was overdue. The party’s environment spokeswoman Joanna Tuffy said the Government’s approach to investment in water needs to change. “There needs to be a national water strategy rather than the piecemeal approach of the past,” she said.
“The priority of State investment has to reduce the amount of public treated water that is lost through leaks. The other priority has to be bringing waste water treatment facilities up to standard to ensure safe drinking water.
“It raises the question as to how, when the Government was spending up to €500 million per year on water infrastructure projects, our distribution was allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair,” Ms Tuffy said.