Water charges and excessive usage

Sir, — Your article “ Water charges of €500 may be in pipeline for those who waste “ (News, June 10th) presents the following as fact: “The changes were made in an effort to comply with the European Water Framework Directive which requires Ireland to impose domestic charges as a water conservation measure.”

The Water Framework Directive does not require Ireland, or any other country for that matter, to impose domestic water charges. There are derogations in place which Ireland and many other countries have availed of heretofore.

There has been consistent misleading of the public when it comes to Ireland’s EU obligations in relation to water. Seven of our elected MEPs wrote a letter to this newspaper in 2016 explaining how we would not be in breach of the Water Framework Directive if domestic water charges were abolished.

This portrayal of Irish households as being profligate with their water usage is also disingenuous. The Government’s Expert Commission on the Funding of Domestic Public Water Service said: “The Expert Commission has not seen any evidence that Ireland has particularly high levels of domestic water consumption . . . consumption figures for Ireland compare favourably with other developed countries and do not show evidence of extensive excessive or wasteful water consumption by households in Ireland.”

Their report shows that Irish households use 25 per cent less water than our UK counterparts, despite the UK having water charges in place for more than 30 years.

The proposal to reintroduce “excessive usage charges” for households will cost more to administer than it will receive in income.

For example, a €500 charge on 70,000 households would raise €35 million. The running of the Irish Water call centre alone will cost €40 million, with servicing of meters costing €54 million and postage costs of more than €6 million.

In total it would cost in excess of €200 million per year to run an “excessive usage charge” system for a maximum return of €35 million. Even Fine Gael with its profligacy around the national children’s hospital plan and the national broadband plan must think an annual loss of €165 million is absurd, particularly during a housing emergency.

If the Government is genuine about conservation, it could spend this money fixing our pipes where 50 per cent of our treated water is lost through leaks. Households use only 12 per cent of treated water, with industry using 38 per cent but with over half refusing to pay their bills.

It’s interesting that the Government’s own expert commission made several recommendations including the introduction of abstraction charges for bottled water companies that use our water for free in unlimited quantities and for the holding of a referendum on the public ownership of our water system.

Yet Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have blocked those proposals in favour of targeting households for a non-existent “excessive water usage”.

We can assure them, if they persist, they can expect a backlash in the next general election. — Yours, etc,



Right2Water Ireland,

Dublin 1.

Originally published at https://www.irishtimes.com on August 20, 2019.

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