National Federation of Group Water Schemes
Co-operative Society Ltd.
24 Old Cross Square, Monaghan
Tel: 047 72766 Fax: 047 72788
Reassurance for group water scheme boards and members “there is no fear of an Irish Water takeover, but issues for publicly sourced schemes remain to be clarified”
At a recent Board Meeting of the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, chairperson, Brendan O’Mahony, said that it needs to be ‘clearly understood that Irish Water cannot and will not be taking over Group Water Schemes now or at any point in the future without the say-so of the communities who own our schemes, or in other extremely exceptional circumstances.’
Mr O’Mahony said that the recent controversies surrounding Irish Water had generated ‘widespread public confusion and concern about the future of Group Water Schemes and what may be coming down the tracks in terms of water and wastewater pricing as well as the scale of standing charges that may be applied on water meters’.
Stressing that group water schemes are ‘outside the remit of Irish Water for as long as they choose to remain as community-owned and community-run drinking water services’, he added: ‘The only basis on which any Group Water Scheme can be brought under the new entity is where the membership of that scheme decides that it wants to hand over its assets and give up on managing its own water supply or in exceptional circumstances such as a substantial threat to public health that cannot be resolved in any other way. Given the vibrancy of the privately sourced GWS sector in this country, we can be quite certain that such a hand-over will not happen for the foreseeable future. ‘This message cannot be stated forcefully enough, because there is confusion and there is a nagging doubt within GWS boards and members that takeover at some point is inevitable – nothing could be further from the truth: the independence of this sector is enshrined in law and there is no Earthly reason why that should ever change.’
In case of publicly sourced schemes, however there are unresolved issues that remain to be clarified. If these schemes are to remain as community owned entities then they must be given the financial and infrastructural resources to do the job. Above all there needs to be a monetary incentive that will encourage these schemes to retain the legal responsibility they have to maintain networks and deliver a quality water supply to their members. What will not work is a situation where the committees of publicly sourced schemes are merely revenue collectors for Irish Water. The NFGWS is currently in discussions with the
Department of Environment, Community and Local Government and others to address as far as possible the situation for these publicly sourced schemes. Charges As speculation grows over the possible scale of charges that will face householders in those parts of the country that are not supplied from Irish Water networks, Mr O’Mahony predicted that ‘the benefits of belonging to a group water supply are bound to be increasingly appreciated by our members’.
Whereas charges for Irish Water supplies ‘will be determined by a regulator in Dublin’, he said that ‘our communities will retain the right to set their own level of charges, consistent with the need to run the business properly and to build a reserve’, adding that ‘the co-operative and not-for-profit ethos that underpins our group water schemes will compare very favourably indeed with the corporate model and ethos that will drive charging policy in relation to Irish Water’.
Subsidy Referring to the subsidies provided by the Department of the Environment towards the cost of water supply on group schemes, Mr O’Mahony said: ‘It would be a serious mistake if the additional work required in managing lengthy rural networks in areas of relatively low population was not given recognition through the ongoing payment of a realistic level of operational subsidy. The NFGWS is firmly of the view that while subsidy may have been introduced as a compensatory payment, it is now a guarantee of quality service. ‘Schemes will rightly expect our National Board to support the retention of state subvention that adequately recognises the additional demands in managing rural water supplies.
Improved Water Quality Mr O’Mahony said that ‘the recently published EPA reports on Drinking Water Quality, which show major year-on-year improvements in GWS drinking water quality, clearly demonstrate the importance of ongoing state assistance to the sector. He concluded: ‘While there can never be any room for complacency, the National Federation of Group Water Schemes Quality Assurance System approach to GWS drinking water delivery has radically improved performance within this sector, both in terms of water quality and in the control of leaks and wastage across our networks. We have to acknowledge the efforts of GWS boards, managers, administrators and operational staff who are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to ensuring a consistent, quality service.’
Research & Evaluation Officer,
National Federation of Group Water Schemes (NFGWS)