Vulnerability of Ireland’s drinking water supplies must be urgently addressed by Irish Water, says EPA

  • The quality of drinking water from public supplies is high, with over 99.7% of samples compliant with bacterial and chemical limits.
  • At the end of 2020, 46 vulnerable water supplies – serving 1 million people – required significant works, with over half experiencing delays.
  • Over 15,500 people were on boil water notices for longer than one month.
  • It will take decades for Irish Water to remove all lead connections at their current rate of replacement.

The EPA Drinking Water Quality in Public Supplies Report 2020 released today, shows that the quality of drinking water in public supplies remains high, with over 99.7% compliance with bacterial and chemical limits. The continued high levels of water quality being achieved are positive for consumers and indicate that the water is safe to drink. However, improvements are needed in our drinking water infrastructure to protect public health.  Delays in the delivery of these improvements at water treatment plants by Irish Water means that water supplies remain vulnerable for longer, posing a risk to the health of a large portion of the population.

The EPA’s Remedial Action List identified 46 vulnerable supplies (serving >1,000,000 consumers) with significant issues to be addressed by Irish Water at the end of 2020. This figure is down from 77 supplies in 2017.  Through EPA targeted enforcement, Leixlip has since been removed from the list, after works there resulted in a more secure water supply for over half a million people. However, improvement works at almost half of these supplies will now take longer to complete than was anticipated at the end of 2019.

Launching the report, Dr Tom Ryan, EPA Director said:

“It is good news that our water is safe to drink today, but we cannot say with confidence that it is resilient into the future. The EPA remains concerned about the vulnerability of many drinking water supplies nationally. Irish Water needs to fix the remaining supplies on the EPA’s Remedial Action List without further delay. Recent incidents at Gorey and Ballymore Eustace water treatment plants have highlighted the absolute necessity for Irish Water to ensure our public water supplies are properly and effectively operated, and managed, to protect public health.”

The EPA has also found deficiencies in the national disinfection programme, and a continued lack of focus by Irish Water and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on plans to remove lead from supply connections and assessments of the extent of lead pipework in public buildings on lead in public buildings.  

Noel Byrne, EPA Programme Manager, said:

“15,500 consumers were on Boil water notices for over a month in 2020, and 145,000 households still have lead connections from water mains, which highlights the vulnerabilities that exist in drinking water supplies. 

Irish Water must expedite lead connection replacements and progress improvements to disinfection systems – including addressing the issues with the disinfection programme identified by the EPA – to ensure that the quality of drinking water is adequately safeguarded.”

The EPA Drinking Water Quality in Public Supplies Report 2020 and the complete list of public water supplies currently on the Remedial Action List – including details of the proposed remedial measures and associated timeframes – are available on the EPA website.

Some key findings of the 2020 report on public water supplies:

  • 99.96 per cent of samples comply with microbiological parameter limits.
  • 99.71 per cent of samples comply with chemical parameter limits.
  • 46 supplies were on the EPA’s Remedial Action List at the end of 2020, compared to 77 at the end of 2019.
  • 43 boil water notices and 17 water restrictions were in place in 2020, affecting almost 80,000 people.
  • 27 of those boil water notices were in place for more than 30 days, meaning they are classed as long-term notices requiring investment in infrastructure to address.
  • E. coli bacteria was detected in three supplies, compared to eight supplies in 2019.
  • Trihalomethanes limits were exceeded in 35 supplies, compared to 46 in 2019.
  • Pesticides limits were exceeded in 33 supplies, compared to 27 in 2019.
  • The EPA issued five Directions (legally binding instructions) to Irish Water in 2020.

The EPA has identified the following priorities for Irish Water to address on a national level to protect and improve public water supplies:

  • Progressing action programmes for all Remedial Action List schemes;
  • Ensure that water is free of bacteria;
  • Ensure that water is free of protozoan organisms;
  • Ensure that water is free of chemical substances (trihalomethanes and pesticides);
  • Ensure that water treatment plants are operated correctly;
  • Eliminating lead from our drinking water networks;
  • Managing risks to our public water supplies by adopting Drinking Water Safety Plans for all supplies.

 List of supplies on the Remedial Action List at the end of 2020***

CavanBailieborough7785LimerickFoynes/Shannon Estuary7,023
CavanShercock712LimerickNewcastle West9,448
CavanDowra PWS92LongfordGowna*4,359
ClareEnnistymon6,961LongfordLongford Central16,729
ClareWest Clare  (New WTP)11,236LouthGreenmount4,814
CorkGlengarriff*353MayoNewport PWS684
CorkSchull946MeathNavan & Mid-Meath**38,985
Cork CityCork City Water Supply87,114OffalyClara/Ferbane RWSS7,467
DonegalGlenties-Ardara3,536TipperaryGaltee Regional11,436
Dun Laoghaire- RathdownRoundwood42,106WaterfordDungarvan11,472
KerryBallyheigue2,466WicklowAughrim / Annacurra1,594
KerryCahersiveen1,370WicklowEnniskerry Public Supply2,667
KerryCaragh Lake1,899WicklowWicklow Regional Public Supply15,598
KerryMountain Stage840WicklowBray28,934
KilkennyKilkenny City (Radestown)14,441WicklowGreystones/Windgates/ Templecarraig16,380
LaoisAbbeyleix 11,836WicklowNewtown Newcastle Kilcoole 12,724 

*Supply was removed from the RAL during 2021

**Navan Mid Meath supply was split into Liscarton and Kilcarn suuplies; Liscarton was removed from RAL during 2021 and Kilcarn remains on RAL

***The following supplies were added to the RAL in 2021 – Whitegate Regional, Kilgarvan, Borrisokane, Ballymorris, Clare Island, Burncourt Ballylooby, Nenagh Regional, Carlow North Regional, West Clare (old) WTP, Kereen, Louisburgh, Callan, Ballymahon and Batterstown.  

List of the supplies currently on a Boil Water Notice or Water Restriction (on 14/12/2021)

CountyName of SupplyPopulation Affected
CorkWhiddy Island30
LimerickFedamore PWS492
LimerickFoynes/Shannon Estuary PWS500
MeathSt Louis, National School, Rathkenny48
TipperaryClonmel Poulavanogue96
TipperaryGaltee Regional192
TipperaryTipperary Town4,818
WicklowBallymorris Public Supply17
WicklowJohnstown South (Arklow)6
TOTAL 10,883

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