23rd March

Real cost of water and global scarcity top seminar agenda

Ivan Grimes, DECLG; Jennifer Franklin CEF Vice Chairperson; Jacob Tompkins, Waterwise, Helen Barrett, CEF Treasurer

Bernadette Connolly

Despite a wet climate, Ireland’s biggest imports — food and energy — ensure that it is inextricably linked to the wider global water supply, a seminar organised by the Cork Environmental Forum on future water policy was told.Ivan Grimes, DECLG; Jennifer Franklin CEF Vice Chairperson; Jacob Tompkins, Waterwise, Helen Barrett, CEF Treasurer

“Almost 90% of the consumption of the world’s freshwater supply is used to produce energy and food, and although the scale of the problem is hard to grasp, even the most hardened sceptic would have to agree that it would be economically prudent to begin to put in place measures to address this issue now rather than later,” Jennifer Franklin, vice-chairperson of the CEF remarked at the outset.

Presentations ranged from the establishment of Irish Water and metering; the Water Framework Directive; fluoridation of public water supplies and the importance of adopting effective common-sense water conservation measures.


Funding model reform
Outlining the rationale for establishing Irish Water within the Bord Gáis structure, Ivan Grimes, Principal Officer, Water Policy Section at the Department of the Environment, Community & Local Government, argued the need for reforming Ireland’s funding model for water. .

He also confirmed that the national water-metering programme would commence in 2013 and added that the main challenge would be to win public acceptance of water charges while maintaining a quality service throughout the transition period.    

Jacob Tompkins, MD of Waterwise — the London-based independent not-for-profit, non-governmental body which promotes water efficiency and conservation — noted that Ireland now had the opportunity to choose “the more sustainable option of managing water services” which he advised “should be demand-managed with built in water efficiency measures.

Water and energy savers
As for introducing  effective water conservation strategies, Tomkins demonstrated some relatively and easily-applied tools including aerated shower heads, cistern adjusters, egg timers, and tap inserts to show how simple it can be to save water and energy in the home.

He also revealed that average daily water use in Ireland was 150 litres per person, while elsewhere the figure is closer to 100 litres, with the Danes consuming just 90 litres per person per day.

At €9 per cubic litre in Denmark, this is double what it costs in the UK which, he said, was a factor in their lower consumption.

Seán Ó’Breasail, former co-ordinator of the South West River Basin District Project, spoke on the plans developed to fully implement the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Improving status
He said the key challenge now was to maintain the ‘good’ and ‘high status’ levels and to increase the measures necessary to raise those water bodies with ‘moderate’, ‘poor’ and ‘bad’ status.

“Local authorities and others play a vital role in putting in place the measures agreed, and all partners need to fulfil their role in this regard to reach those targets in a timely manner,” he declared.

He also highlighted the challenges in meeting the targeted measures that include funding of infrastructure; controlling nitrates; realism on achievement of protected areas standards; administrative arrangements which includes addressing the current democratic deficit due to the current lack of a stakeholder representative body.  

Research required
Declan Waugh of Enviro Management Services spoke on the policy in Ireland of adding fluoride to the public water supply despite the fact that in practically all other European countries mass fluoridation has ceased – with the UK currently applying fluoride to only 10% of its water supply

“It’s the water type that determines what effects this chemical may have, and there is a lack of research to support its continued use. And given the fact that most other European countries now apply the precautionary principle by not using it anymore, we should do likewise in Ireland,” he said.

Following the presentations, a round table discussion on policy revealed that people largely accepted that clean drinking water was expensive and should be paid for, but that a ‘free allowance’ of 70 litres a day should apply with a sliding scale applied thereafter. This would help reward those who made efforts to conserve consumption by less wasteful usage, it was agreed.

A recurring theme throughout the seminar was the increasing scarcity of water worldwide and the huge number of people who now experience ‘water poverty’. Although average daily use of water for drinking, cooking, hygiene, washing etc. is 150 litres, the imbedded cost of water to produce our food, clothing and other consumables is closer to 3,400 litres.

Further information at www.cef.ie

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