On the 24th of last month, for the third time in as many years I spent hours helping constituents throughout Dublin Central to deal with the threat of flooding to their homes.
On that night in Dublin City the equivalent of one month’s rain fell in a matter of a few hours. Since then myself and the rest of our group have been working on behalf of our constituents to address the many issues that arose and Dublin City Councils response to the crises.
So it’s a bit strange to now go on to tell you that I think one of the single biggest issues facing the city is the provision of an adequate and secure water supply.
It is estimated that 875 million people around the world or about one in eight people lack access to safe water.
The EU has warned that, by 2050, the effects of climate change will trigger medium or severe water stress throughout the union.
Last year in Dublin we had to impose water restrictions because the supply of fresh, clean, treated water was not sufficient for the cities needs.
Treating water for human consumption is an expensive business, this year alone Dublin City Council will spend more than €120million on the provision of water in the city.
It is also true that much of the water we produce and use is wasted – primarily because it is perceived as a “free” resource.
And water is important not to just to meet household requirements it is also essential to supporting jobs and employment.
Therefore in order for the city to be successful we need to ensure sufficient investment in the required infrastructure and responsible management and usage of this vital resource.
To address this issue I propose to touch on three areas; 1. The provision of water 2. The consumption of water and 3. The economic opportunity.
To deal firstly with the provision of an adequate water supply I believe essential services like water should be delivered as a universal public service.
On that basis I propose that the local authority, in this instance Dublin City Council should be responsible for the adequate provision of a universal water supply and users in the city should be equipped to manage and control their consumption.
In a number of their policy documents Fine Gael outlined plans for the setting up of a new water company called “Irish water”. However their plans for an “irish water” company are not very clear. Despite the fact that Dublin City Council has more than 300 people employed in the provision of water it not yet been given information from the government on how the proposed “Irish water” company would work.
I am not in favour of the privatisation of our water services.
I believe Dublin City Council should retain responsibility for day-to-day operations and provision of water in the capital because they are close to the end users, they have an experienced workforce already in place and they are locally accountable.
In terms of the second issue, that of consumption management I believe consumers have to be given an incentive to conserve their usage.
Any charges for water should only be introduced on a usage basis with an adequate free allowance and charges should be applied only for usage in excess of that allowance.
I believe there has to be some form of reduced charge or waiver for those who cannot afford to pay.
I am completely opposed to what appears to be the Government proposed flat rate charge because it is unfair and damaging to the environment.
Flat rate water charges would see a person with multiple bathrooms, power showers and a habit of washing the car every other day paying the same as someone with only one bathroom and no car. Flat rate water charges will be a disaster and encourage abuse of a vital resource.
I believe that just as more people started recycling when charges were imposed on household waste, or using a shopping bag when the plastic bag levy was introduced, people will be more responsible in their water consumption if they are given a real incentive to conserve water.
As it is every non-domestic property in the city is subject to water charges and currently non-domestic users pay €1.80 per 1000lts used. I believe water charges to domestic users should be no more than this.
Just to put 1000ltrs in perspective on average Irish people use about 150 litres each a day. Using a washing machine takes 45 litres, brushing your teeth with the tap on 6 litres, brushing your teeth with the tap off 1 litre. So its clear metered charging would encourage conservation.
Thirdly there are real employment opportunities associated with improved management and consumption of water in the city.
The Fianna Fail manifesto for the General Election included a plan to create more than 1500 jobs in the water metering programme.
Just down the road from here in East Wall when a local man, a plumber by trade was made unemployed a couple of years ago he engaged with the then government funded programme and through his own initiative set-up a company called “beat the meter”. Today it is providing local employment and homeowners and businesses with the opportunity to save money through water conservation.
There is real scope for the Government to take more unemployed plumbers off the dole q and give them the dignity of earning a living if they make employment creation a priority of their water programme.
So to summarise, rather than relying on a non-existent Irish Water company to oversee the installation of water meters at an estimated cost of more than €1 billion to the public purse, I would call on the Government to re-confirm the local authorities role in the provision of a universal water service, to step-back from the unfair and environmentally unfriendly proposal to apply a flat rate charge, to support entrepreneurial plumbers by making it Government policy to deploy water recovery systems in all public buildings and by providing consumers with an incentive to install water meters now.