Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

21 January 1999 Edition

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Will there be water left to drink in the next Millennium?

Fears of computer shutdown in 2000 could bring disaster, reports Roisín de Rossa

There is a water crisis in Ireland. You wouldn't think it with all the rain, but there it is. There is a shortage of water available in the reservoirs in summer; half the water supply leaks away through faulty pipes; there are deteriorating lead and asbestos pipes which can poison the water supply; as much as 50% of water supplies are so full of the killer bug, E-Coli, which comes from human or animal faeces, that it cannot be safely drunk.

About one million households are connected to water supply. 700,000 of these houses are on the mains handled by local authorities, and get their water free. The rest are in public or private group water schemes, where most often people have to pay, and some 134,000 have their own private supply.

Some of those on group schemes are in double jeopardy. They have paid down the years for their water scheme and now find they must drive off to their local spring to fill containers for themselves and their neighbours. Their own water, which runs off mountains which have been overstocked and overgrazed by sheep, has become contaminated by animal waste run-off or inadequate treatment of waste in septic tanks for sewage which has polluted ground water and natural springs.

Meanwhile Ireland is still spewing its untreated sewage into the sea, in Dublin, and into the inland waterways, which looks bad for the 250,000 tourists who come to Ireland each year for water based sports.

It will cost around £3 billion to put all this right, sources in industry estimate. But responsibility to clean it all up is scattered between local authorities, the Department of Environment and Marine, the OPW (Office of Public Works) and the fishery boards. It makes the £56 million allocated last year towards drawing up a rural water strategic plan look a bit thin.

But the immediate problem is at the start of next year. The 2K computer bug might mean that we get no water at all. Some if not all the computers which run the sewage and water systems are expected to knock off in 350 days. The risk inventory assessing the likelihood of this event will not be complete until the end of February. Though this might put a stop to water supplies, it won't stop sewage.

An international consultant's audit of the city's preparedness, recently published in Computers in Business magazine, quotes the author of the report as saying that ``The continuation in the supply of water must be treated as a national emergency. At this stage there is no substantial evidence of anyone being in control of the situation.''

`Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.' There is indeed a crisis looming which will not be easily resolved. But it could easily become an excuse to accede to EU pressures to bring Ireland into line with other EU states and make everyone pay for what in the past the majority had for free. Such a step would amount to a real fall in our standard of living.


25 year wait for water supply to Glen of Imaal

Dept of Defence and Wicklow County Council waste £300,000

By Roisín de Rossa

High up in the beautiful Glen of Imaal, in Michael 0'Dwyer's country, where every little cottage is a house where Michael O'Dwyer stayed, and danced the night away before the Redcoats came. Where every little stream, which joins the pleasant Slaney as it winds its quiet way down to Wexford from the high mountains of Lugnaquilla, is a place where Michael O'Dywer once sat and laughed at his latest escapade against the yeomen. Where there is a graveyard, high up on the hill, where local legend has it that Michael O'Dwyer's finger is buried.

Bill Walsh lives in the Glen of Imaal and in the history of the times of 1798. With him you would expect to see Michael O'Dwyer cantering round the corner ahead at any moment. Bill is involved in many projects, including a campaign for an information technology centre for the Glen, Donoughmore and Donard ``to bring local people into the next millennium'', and, perhaps later, plans for a heritage centre which may mark the spot high up in the hills where, on the old Military Road which the Brits built across the mountains to chase the rebels in 1798, there was a blanket factory, or to mark the Ogham stone, with Ogham writing incised along its edge, which lies hidden in woods off the roadway unmarked, and unknown to all but the few, like Bill. But for the moment Bill has no dependable supply of running water.

Bill is the chairperson of the Glen of Imaal Action Group which is campaigning over the inadequate water supply to the 200 homes in the Glen. At present the houses are supplied by a broken pipe which brings water down from a reservoir up on the hill which stores the water from the little Slaney as it come tumbling down from the surrounding Wicklow hills. The most beautiful of streams, the little Slaney has the purest of crystal clear water. The Brits built a little reservoir back in 1914 to hold the water. The reservoir supplied around 200 local houses in the Glen, and the local Army camp.

But the reservoir, which is two small concrete holding tanks and filtration system, has been allowed to fall into disrepair. The underground piping has been replaced by a surface plastic pipe which is held together with baler twine. It is this pipe which intermittently supplies the houses in the glen below. When it freezes, or blocks, the water supply stops.

For 25 years now the local people have been trying to get a proper supply of water to their houses, without success. Ten years ago Wicklow County Council got permission from the Department of Defence to investigate a site at Knickeen Ford for a reservoir on the land which the Department uses for a firing range. £323,000 was spent in the investigation, on consultant engineer's fees, on surveys, plant and machinery, only to find, four years on, that the Department refused permission for the land to be used for the purpose. It would severely restrict military use of the Glen, they said. Besides, it was dangerous and could not be declared free of unexploded ordnance. Funny they did not think of this four years before the money was spent.. Two years ago the reservoir project was finally called off.

The latest proposal now under investigation is to pipe water from Ballymore Eustace and the Poulaphouca reservoir, some ten miles down the road to the Glen of Imaal. The local action group is entirely opposed to this.

``It's an idiocy. Imagine the costs and the disruption on the roads,'' says Bill Walsh. ``Why, when there is plenty of water here,'' he asks, ``when they have an existing reservoir, which just needs repair and updating. The water here could supply the whole of Wicklow.''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1