Wednesday, 25 October 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
The water supply to households and businesses in Moate, County Westmeath, is more akin to what is available in a Third World country than in modern Ireland where Ministers almost daily boast of the Exchequer being awash with money.
Moate has a population of close to 2,000. It is a busy centre of commerce on the N6 and has a number of industrial enterprises employing many people. There are a number of schools, shops and offices, a magnificent arts centre, a hotel, a nursing home under construction, a golf club, a community centre and an array of other facilities.
For a number of years the water supply in Moate has been at best erratic and at worst non-existent. For the past five weeks the supply has been closed down officially from midnight to 7 a.m., but the reality is that the supply could be cut off without prior warning at any time. Many households at the end of supply lines experience poor pressure even when the supply is operative.
This has caused difficulty for many householders. Domestic appliances have been damaged for lack of a water supply and low pressure. The water crisis is causing havoc in particular to publi  cans and business users. There is also the constant worry that should there be a fire in Moate the fire hydrants would be inoperative and this would have predictable consequences.
Housing and other developments in the Moate area have now been halted because of the non-availability of a water supply. The recent designation of special status for Moate under the village renewal scheme must now be in jeopardy.
The water supply for Moate comes from a local source and the dry summer is blamed for the poor supply. An augmentation scheme was added to the supply in recent years but it had little impact on the existing supply. Westmeath County Council is carrying out what amount to temporary measures to try to alleviate the difficult but these are totally inadequate. The people of Moate, who have been very tolerant to date, have now reached the end of their tether. They want and are entitled to an adequate water supply and they want it immediately. The years of being fobbed off with excuses and promises of action must end.
The proposed south Westmeath supply scheme will not bring a quality water supply to Moate for six or seven years. Can we expect the people of Moate to wait so long for a basic right? Will the Minister stand over such a long delay or will he provide the funds to have this problem rectified immediately. Money must be provided now by the Department of the Environment and Local Government to remedy the situation. There are remedies available. An additional temporary supply could be provided, either from the Mount Temple group water scheme or from the Mullingar regional water supply scheme which comes through Ballynacarrigy and Ballymore. A simple pipeline could be extended to Moate to improve the scheme there. Will the Minister bring to the attention of the Department of the Environment and Local Government the urgent need for these works.
Mr. Penrose: I thank my colleague, Deputy McGrath, for sharing his time. This is an extremely important matter concerning the water supply in Moate which is grossly inadequate. Deputy McGrath was, to say the least, very kind when he said it was spasmodic and erratic. As he said, there are up to 2,000 inhabitants in Moate and a rapidly expanding population. Huge developments are taking place in Moate in the area of domestic house building, although it has virtually stalled because of the unreliability of the water supply. Moate is an area which needs industry; it is well located on the N6 close to Athlone and Dublin. There is no doubt that the absence of an adequate water supply is an inhibiting factor in relation to the location of industrial development in this area.
From the domestic, agricultural and industrial view point, the inadequate water supply is a major impediment to moving forward. Apart from that, an adequate water supply is indispensable to public health and for ordinary things, such as looking after young children. As Deputy  McGrath rightly pointed out, the inadequate water supply has had a major negative impact on domestic household appliances and so on. It is a huge inconvenience to the population.
Moate is a rapidly expanding area with hotels and expensive recreational facilities, including a large golf club. The time has come when people are no longer prepared to tolerate this. It is an issue of public health at this stage and it is vital for the preservation and protection of public health. As Deputy McGrath outlined, the possibility of a fire risk given the inadequate water supply and a rapidly expanded population cannot be under estimated.
At a time when we have unprecedented resources available, it is time we brought forward and expedited those schemes. Deputy McGrath proposed a couple of emergency measures and he is right that the Moate-Ballymore and the Mullingar regional water supply scheme could be extended along that road. Many rural dwellers along that road, including Deputy McGrath's relations, would be absolutely delighted to see it coming that way. That is a sensible solution. There was talk about bringing water from the Shannon but that is six or seven years away. I urge the Minister to take note of the deeply expressed concerns of the people of Moate and to bring forward the resources to enable this scheme to be approved.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): My colleague, Deputy Dempsey cannot be in the House this evening to respond to this matter and he has asked me to do so on his behalf. I extend his apologies to the Members.
Before I address the specific issues raised by the Deputy in relation to the water supply to Moate, I would like to put the proposed development in the context of the water and sewerage services investment programme, the first phase of which the Minister for the Environment and Local Government launched in July of this year.
As we are all well aware, Ireland has experienced remarkable social and economic growth over the past few years and this has been reflected in a corresponding expansion and broadening of the water and sewerage services investment programme. Overall, between 1994 and the end of 1999, we invested more than £960 million of capital funding in providing water and sewerage facilities to meet burgeoning social and economic demand, very considerably more than what was envisaged at the start of the last national development plan. The final year of that plan, 1999, saw record investment of £283 million in water services, an increase of 50% on 1998 expenditure and more than double the 1996 figure.
Total planned investment in water and sewerage services over the period of the new national development plan is almost £3 billion, with more than £2.4 billion for major public schemes. The  new investment programme will continue the focus of previous programmes on water and waste water services investment required to support economic and social development, employment generation, maintenance of high growth rates and the achievement of high environmental standards. Funding is being provided for new projects in every single county, ensuring that all areas of the country will benefit.
The new plan envisages an almost threefold increase in capital spending on water services in the seven years up to 2006 by comparison to the 1994-99 period. This will present challenges to all the major players such as contractors, engineering services and local authorities in ensuring that the increased number of projects envisaged under the plan are delivered. For this reason, a three year programme has been announced rather than the traditional annual one to reduce the uncertainties caused by the previous single year approach. It will provide the critical participants with an opportunity for longer-term resource planning to optimise delivery of the programme. It will be a rolling three year programme which will run right up to 2006. In future years, the programme will be rolled forward by one year at a time. There will be sufficient flexibility to allow for new schemes to be introduced as other imperatives emerge such as social or economic issues requiring the fast-tracking of individual projects needed for particular purposes.
Schemes going into the programme are mainly drawn from local authority assessments of needs completed by them during 1999. The main purpose of the assessments was to develop an overall strategic investment plan for each county for the medium to long-term and to set out a programme of works to meet the identified needs.
Westmeath County Council included the South Westmeath Regional Water Supply Scheme as part of its assessment of needs submission. The council proposes that this scheme be done in three stages. The first stage will address the requirement to provide a new intake at Coosan Lough incorporating a treatment plant for five million gallons of water per day and to include a rising main to Annagh Reservoir. The project will provide for improving the existing water supply to the Athlone urban area and its environs, including upgrading and replacing existing mains and examining options in respect of the future role of the existing Athlone town water treatment plant. Stage two, which must await the completion of stage one, will address the extension of the supply from Athlone to serve Moate and environs, including provision of a new reservoir at Knockdomney. Stage three will deal with the extension of public water mains to service the Tang-Glasson area.
At the moment, Westmeath County Council is preparing a revised preliminary report for stage one, which it expects to submit to the Department of the Environment and Local Government within 12 months. Stage one has been included in the first phase of the water and sewerage services  investment programme, covering 2000-2003, as a scheme to enter planning.
The Department has been made aware by Westmeath County Council of the problems encountered recently with the water supply to Moate. This was due in part to inadequate yield from the Ballinderry Reservoir source, brought about by a protracted dry period, and was compounded by mechanical failure that resulted in some customers in the town being without water for in excess of 24 hours.
It is clear that a permanent solution to the problems encountered by the residents of Moate is still some way off. However, interim solutions are being examined by the council which may provide alternative means of augmenting the supply. The council has written to the Department seeking a further allocation under the small schemes programme. While all allocations under this scheme for 2000 have been drawn down, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has asked his Department to consider the request further in the light of any savings that might arise before the end of the year.
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