What is wrong with our water quality?
Last week the water quality of 180,000 householders in Dublin and Wexford was compromised when two water treatment plants failed. 52 people became ill and sought treatment. Over the last years we have seen regular ‘boil water notices’ in many parts of the country due to biological contaminants. In addition a number of beaches and swimming spots were closed over the summer as raw sewage is poured into the sea. The EPA has said that half of our rivers are polluted.
Our water infrastructure in Ireland is now so poor that the European Commission has issued repeated warnings to Ireland. Much of our water supply piping is still made from lead which was discovered to be poisonous by the ancient Romans.
What is the problem? Why is a country that presents itself internationally as a leader in technology unable to provide clean drinking water and universal sewage treatment to its householders? The answer of course is underinvestment in infrastructure. Our piping network is creaking, a lot of clean water is lost to leaks and a lot of sewage is discharged into our clean rivers.
Despite the fact that we have clean water pouring from the sky almost every day, southern EU states with much drier climates are managing to do a better job than we are.
But perhaps we only have ourselves to blame. Remember the water charges debate 7 years ago and how through public pressure we threw out any plans to charge us for water? Surrounded by water in Ireland we felt we were entitled to have it for free. Those conscientious citizens who paid their water charges when they were briefly introduced were ridiculed and their money returned.
However if we want our entitlement to clean water to mean anything we have to invest and the money has to come from somewhere. Water charges have been rejected, but should we bring them back? Or increase taxation? Or print more money and risk inflation?
What do you think? What would you do?