A week without water for tens of thousands of Irish households

A week without water for tens of thousands of Irish households

Irish Water will not be able to solve an emergency situation in Drogheda which has left more than 30,000 homes and business without water until Thursday.

The north-east town remains without water after a main more than four metres below the ground burst on Friday morning.

Irish Water has begun a special operation to repair the damage after efforts over the weekend failed.

The water utility said it would be this evening at the earliest before it could be repaired.

The pipe was supplying raw water to the Staleens water treatment plant in Drogheda. Reservoir storage capacities at both Donore and Windmill Hill reservoirs have been exhausted, leading to water supply disruptions in towns including Duleek, Lagavoreen, Donore, Ashbourne, Stamullen, Kentstown, and Ardcath.

Irish Water said it was working in partnership with Louth County Council to implement a water contingency plan to deal with shortages.

A representative for Irish Water Conor Foley expressed his sympathies to the estimated 50,000 people affected and ensured that they are doing everything they possibly can.

The solution requires bespoke parts that are being engineered in Northern Ireland.

"It is a very severe situation and we have to be realistic. We will receive part tomorrow, do the repair on Wednesday and restore the supply on Thursday,” Mr Foley told RTÉ Radio One.

Mr Foley said Irish Water is treating the situation as a major emergency.

He said the agency has been working around the clock but standard measures of repair on the 50-year-old high pressure pipeline are proving ineffective.

"The repair is proving very challenging for a number of reasons. The pipeline is at a significant depth of 4.5 metres. There are very difficult ground conditions at the site. The age, size and type of pipe means it has become deformed."

The 600mm diameter, asbestos cement pipe can no longer take the standard replacement parts and Irish Water has had to get brand new, bespoke fittings engineered from scratch by a company in Northern Ireland.

He added that Irish Water have mobilised all resources including bringing in a fleet of water tankers to refill the reservoirs.

"We have also put in 21 temporary water stations. On a precautionary basis people will have to boil that water because we can't control the level of hygiene in that water," he said.

Mr Foley said Irish Water have conducted a review of the situation and are prioritising repair of the pipelines.

He said they are also prioritising supply to critical customers like Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and businesses which are dependent water to remain open.

He described the circumstances of the repair as very difficult but said the incident management team had been working tirelessly all weekend.

Mr Foley put the estimate of people affected at 50,000 but said numbers are probably increasing due to depletion of the reservoirs.

He said Irish Water are attempting to ration the water supplies in these reservoirs in a rotational basis.

Speaking on the national issue of water supply, Mr Foley said there has been a €3.5bn investment into water infrastructure announced earlier this year.

"There has been decades of underspending on water infrastructure in Ireland. We have 60,000km of pipeline across the country. That's enough to go around the globe one-and-a-half times. To replace all those pipes would cost €15bn," he said.

He said to replace all 1000km of 'trunk main' pipes in Drogheda alone would cost €2bn.

Mr Foley added that they need a further €13bn to solve legacy issues in Ireland's water supply and said that it is a problem with a solution on a "generational" timeline.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Drogheda has said Irish Water “need to get their act together”.

He said the situation is affecting businesses, families and has even affected local Debs in the area.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One, Mayor Pio Smith said this is the second time in 12 months that there has been an outage at the plant.

He said the problem could be affecting up to 75,000 people as it has led to disruptions in towns including Duleek, Lagavoreen, Donore, Ashbourne, Stamullen, Kentstown, and Ardcath.

"The whole town is affected. It’s like sitting on a fault line – when is it going to blow?" he said.

"It is affecting businesses. Hotels are affected, bakeries are affected, hairdressers are affected. If businesses can’t guarantee water supply they can't fill hotel rooms. It spreads all around town.  It is a very serious problem," he said.

There are temporary water stations in place and he said Irish Water is prioritising certain businesses.

The same programme on RTÉ Radio One heard from Liz Lynch, operator of Sage & Stone restaurant in Duleek, Co. Meath.

"We are all upset about it. This is a huge inconvenience for businesses. It’s not good and it looks very bad for the country," she said.

She said she can’t afford to be closed during the tourist season so is now carrying water in manually from a water tank for the operation of the business.

Mayor Smith said Irish Water engineers attempted to fix the problem at Staleen with spare parts but discovered the pipes had changed shape and could not take the replacement parts.

"They haven’t got a ‘Plan B’. The problem is old pipes. They are not doing enough and not doing it fast enough. They need to tell people exactly what the problem is," he added.

Mayor Smith called for the replacement of the pipes and ‘significant investment’ into the Staleen water plant.

"It is affecting people in a broad number of ways. For example young families with young children are being affected, daily washing is being affected, I know of a number of old people who are relying on neighbours to bring water to them," he said.

He said Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda is not affected.

He said the problem has been known since 2011 and Irish Water has announced a €3.2m investment in local water infrastructure.

"The significance of the problem is greater than just this. We have a 48% unaccounted for leakage rate in Drogheda. We also know that a significant portion of the piping needs to be replaced," he added.

Angry Drogheda residents, queuing up for water at a temporary water supply station, hit out at the situation, labelling it a disgrace.

One man, speaking to RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland, said they had been promised the water would be back "time and time again".

"We were told it'd be back on Friday evening, Saturday evening, Sunday evening and we're told Monday evening," he said.

"Sure that could be Tuesday or Wednesday," he added.

Another local said the water outage is affecting basic needs such as washing and cleaning - particularly with children.

"I've a five-year-old child, I can't even bathe my child," she said.

"I can't even wash up. Like to boil a kettle, you have to come up here to get water. What are you supposed to do, go around dirty? It's a total and utter disgrace," she added.

Containers of water have been brought to Duleek church, the entrance of Lagavoreen estate, Donore church, Race Hill, in Ashbourne, and the Bellewstown Road in Stamullen.

Locals have also been advised of water containers at the Londis car park at Kentstown, Ardcath church and two in Ratoath - at St Paul's School and at the national school on Fairyhouse Road. Anyone taking water from the containers has been asked to boil it before consumption.

A spokesperson said the top priority was maintaining water supply to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. 

Cillian Sherlock and Luke Byrne