Thursday, 15 October 1992
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Kennedy: I am very grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to speak on the Adjournment in respect of Limerick's water suppliy crisis. As a member of Limerick City Council for approximately 25 years and as a member of Seanad Éireann, I am extremely and deeply concerned about the emergency water situation that has arisen in Limerick city and its environs in recent times.
I want the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, to take special note that should there be one big collapse or burst of the water reservoir at Newcastle, Castletroy, in Limerick, which is over 100 years old and is leaking 1.3 million gallons of water per day, Limerick city and its environs would be without water for an indefinite period. The present reservoir, which was constructed as far back as 1891 and stores approximately 10 million gallons of water, is extremely porous and defective. The collapse or break down of this reservoir would leave 100,000 people in factories and industrial enterprises in the greater Limerick area without water. It is intolerable that the third largest city in the Republic could be left without water in this manner. I am very critical of the Minister for the Environment and his predecessor, Deputy Pádraic Flynn, for their failure to act to resolve this emergency, and give the green light for the commencement of work on the erection of a new reservoir and water tower at Castletroy.
The regular disruption of water supplies, for lengthy periods, in Limerick, is causing great distress and embarrassment for many families and industrial enterprises.  I am, therefore, calling on the Minister for the Environment to intervene personally and immediately, and to send a senior departmental inspector to Limerick to conduct a full inquiry into the water crisis and the loss of over 1.3 million gallons of water per day. This is costing Limerick Corporation approximately £120,000 annually, from its own resources from its own revenue. This is a scandal by any standard.
I am also calling on the Minister for the Environment, as a matter of urgency, to give his immediate approval for the commencement of the contract, No. 9, to erect a new reservoir and water tower at Castletroy. This contract was first put out to open tender in early 1991 and a contractor was selected by Limerick Corporation and recommended to the Minister for sanction in early 1992. So far, there has been a deafening silence from this Minister as there was from his predecessor, Deputy Flynn. This contract will cost approximately £3.5 million and will take two years to complete. Fifty per cent of the contract costs would be financed from EC Structural Funds. This would help greatly to alleviate Limerick's critical water supply situation and would give badly needed and worthwhile employment in Limerick.
It is a miracle that the present reservoir, which was constructed over 100 years ago, has survived for so long. The Minister for the Environment must bear the heavy responsibility for any collapse or break down of the system. The gravity of the present situation can be seen from the following facts: Limerick Corporation is now drawing up emergency plans to cope with a total collapse of the 100-year-old reservoir; Limerick Corporation, in a letter to the Department of the Environment, dated 15 September, 1992, referred to their application of 21 January 1992 for funding for the replacement storage reservoir for treated water at Newcastle and stated that the corporation were fearful that the delay in  sanctioning the funding of a new reservoir might result in a major failure due to scouring and underpinning of the existing reservoir. Such a scenario is unthinkable as the equivalent population of approximately 100,000 people would be without water for an indefinite period.
In the same letter to the Department of the Environment, Limerick Corporation further indicated that they were so concerned about the situation that they were sending down trained divers to see if anything could be done to repair the major leaks in the reservoir to prevent the loss of treated water. In that same letter Limerick Corporation further indicated that the above scenario was of such a serious nature that they were making a further appeal for the funding of the replacement reservoir as a matter of special urgency.
In a report to the finance committee, the full body of Limerick City Council, dated 7 October 1992, Mr. J. Higgins — of whom the Minister of State will be aware because he was formerly Acting City Manager in Cork — stated that the corporation had been experiencing considerable difficulties in recent years in the area of water production and treatment He said that again in 1992 it was expected that a substantial overrun, of approximately £140,000 on the adopted estimates, would occur. In addition to the high treatment costs the main item of concern was the major leakage of water from the city reservoir. The production costs of this water, in treatment and pumping costs, was a significant cause of the over-expenditure. He said that strenuous efforts were being made to locate the leaks in the reservoir with a view to elimination, but that the problem could only be satisfactorily resolved when the new reservoir, to which departmental sanction was still awaited, was in operation.
I am therefore urging the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of State, who is here this evening, as a matter of extreme urgency to intervene personally and to send a senior departmental  inspector to Limerick to conduct a full inquiry into our water crisis situation and the daily loss of 1.3 million gallons of water. I also urge him to give immediate approval for the commencement of the contract to erect a new reservoir and water tower at Castletroy in Limerick.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Wallace): I would like to thank Senator Kennedy who has raised this matter here today. I am aware of the problems with the existing reservoir in Limerick and of the proposal to install a new covered reservoir for the city. The provision of a guaranteed supply of good quality drinking water is a priority objective of this Government, as outlined in the Environment Action Programme. It is estimated that some £300 million will be spent over this decade in providing new and improved water supply schemes throughout the country. Since 1990 over £100 million has been invested by the Government towards meeting this objective.
This level of investment will ensure that drinking water meets the exacting standards required under the European Communities Quality of Water Intended for Human Consumption Regulations, 1988. As the Senator is probably aware, the first national report on drinking water quality, which was published last year, confirmed the general good quality of supplies. This is a credit to local authorities and those involved in drinking water production. Given the vital role this service provides to consumers throughout the country, it is essential that local authorities be ever vigilant in their monitoring and sampling of supplies. To support local authorities in their functions the Department recently issued a set of guidelines for the protection of drinking water supplies. Local authorities have been asked for their  views and observations on the guidelines, which it is hoped to finalise in the coming weeks.
There have been significant developments in the Limerick area in the provision of new and improved water and sanitary services facilities. Since 1987 over £16 million has been provided by this Government towards the cost of these facilities. Major sewerage schemes at Rathkeale and Castletroy are under construction and are likely to be completed in 1994.
The need for a new reservoir to serve Limerick city has been established and has been included in the sanitary services programme. The existing reservoir, which has a capacity of 26,000 cubic metres, was constructed at the end of the last century. Not only is the existing capacity inadequate to deal with the water supply demands, but I understand it is a worrying drain on the corporation's resources with daily leakage of over one million gallons, as mentioned by Senator Kennedy. I am advised that Limerick Corporation have carried out an extensive survey of the reservoir. I am most anxious that my Department be advised of the results of this survey and the corporation's proposals for remedial works so that some control can be applied to these losses.
The new proposal, for which a tender recommendation has been submitted to my Department by Limerick Corporation, is for the construction of a 50,000 cubic metre reservoir and a 900 cubic metre water tower to cater for consumers in the more elevated parts of the city.
The level of capital commitments on the water and sanitary services programme is exceptionally high at present and, as a result, it has not been possible to approve this high cost scheme. I cannot at this stage indicate when a decision on this scheme may be made. While I cannot at this stage give a definite commitment on this approval, I can, however, assure Senator Kennedy that the Minister will  endeavour to bring urgent schemes, such as the Limerick city reservoir, to construction as soon as possible.
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