Water, Water Everywhere and Not A Drop to Drink for Free – Soon It may Be Little Water Anywhere and You’ll Be Glad to Pay Just to Get Some
You know the issue of water charges in Ireland is a big deal when the IrishTimes creates a subsection of its “Environment” section devoted to what it calls at times a debate and at other times a debacle on water charges. And when the New York Times covers it as “A New Irish Rebellion,” on par no doubt in the NYT mind with the 1916 rebellion, with its centenary coming soon.
For almost a half-century, various Irish governments have dropped, added, modified, delayed, advanced, finessed charges for water, usually in the end disavowing any such thing, all the time struggling on how to fund local governments without local sources of income including from water usage. Dublin local government faced an intense fight against local water charges in 1994-97. Even the Green Party in the Coalition government with Fianna Fail (2007-2011) promised to forego water charges and instead focus on fixing leaks from water delivery systems, only to agree to a form of water charges later.
So generations of Irish have grown up expecting water to be free.
There is certainly a lot of it coming from the heavens. As a result, people in thirsty Ireland use more water than most EU countries, about 150 litres per day, compared with Great Britain at 113, and Germany at 62. In 2012 Ireland was the only country in Europe with no water meters and the only country in the OECD where households did not pay for the water they use. In 2011, Ireland had the second highest freshwater abstraction rate per inhabitant of 26 EU countries, only after Italy, about 140 m3 per inhabitant
Most recently, the current Irish government introduced charges for use of water in Ireland in response to a demand from the German-led austerity policies that formed the basis for the financial bailout by EU institutions of the badly wounded Celtic tiger. It is doing so through a newly created national water utility, Uisce Eireann/Irish water. The government has been back-pedalling since, capping the costs, critically disconnecting usage from cost, and offering a €100 bonus just for registering each household even if the household does not even use public drinking water or wastewater systems.
The fixes that the government keeps coming up with have undermined the very rationale for water charges and water meters– they encourage water efficiency and using less water to save more money. Malcolm Noonan, environment spokesman for the Green Party, said Irish Water now faces a “major challenge to reduce consumption” in order to ensure continuity of supply. “Now there’s no incentive for the public to change their ways,” he said. “People can put on their lawn sprinklers for five hours and there’s no penalty. The way the utility was set up, there’s no incentive to encourage conservation.” See, Bray.
On the horizon looms a larger problem than paying a fair price for each unit of water used. It is whether there will be enough water available for people on the east coast to get no matter the price.
As reports from the Dublin Council and more recently from Irish Water demonstrate, the east of the country is running out of water and more than 300 million litres per day of water will be needed over the next several decades to sustain expected increased population and economic growth. Irish Water is proceeding to explore its plans to tap into the Shannon Watershed, or, probably less likely, build a desalination plant on the Irish Sea.
There is already growing opposition from communities along the Shannon watershed from this draining of the Shannon to quench the thirst of the eastern communities. The farming sector will likely have something to say about diverting more Shannon water to urban communities to the extent that threatens use of water for farming. Ireland is headed for the intense struggles over water use as we see now intensifying in the arid western US, and that will become more common everywhere as climate change adversely impacts water supplies.
So those refusing to pay for currently abundant water very soon may be fighting to get a fair share of water itself at any price.
P. S. As everybody lines up to assert claims for Shannon water, including Irish Water, they had better begin to consider the potential threat to that Shannon water supply if fracking in the Shannon watershed is allowed. In New York, even when the state was still considering allowing fracking it had decided that wherever else it might be allowed, it would not be allowed in the watershed that supplies New York City as the cost of treating polluted water from fracking in that watershed would cost billions of dollars. Eventually New York banned fracking everywhere in the state because of the health and environmental risks.
“Water Charges,” Citizens Information www.citizensinformation.ie/en/environment/water_services/water_charges.html
“Water Charges,” The Irish Times, www.irishtimes.com/news/water-charges
Suzanne Daley, “A New Irish Rebellion, This Time Against Water Fees,” The New York Times (26 March 2915). www.nytimes.com/2015/03/27/world/europe/many-in-ireland-vow-not-to-pay-a-new-water-tax.html
Allison Bray, “No financial incentive now to curb water use,” Irish Independent (August 2015). www.independent.ie/irish-news/water/irish-water-crisis/no-financial-incentive-now-to-curb-water-use-31421130.html
“How do our water charges compare with the rest of Europe?” the journal.ie (20 Nov 2014). www.thejournal.ie/water-charges-in-ireland-versus-europe-1789576-Nov2014/
Ireland Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Reform of the Water sector in Ireland: Position Paper (January 2012). www.environ.ie/en/PublicationsDocuments/FileDownLoad,29192,en.pdf
Waterwise, Water – The Facts: Why do we need to think about water? www.waterwise.org.uk/data/resources/25/Water_factsheet_2012.pdf
“EU prepping new norms for faucets,” ANSA Politics (10 August 2015). www.ansa.it/english/news/politics/2015/08/10/eu-prepping-new-norms-for-faucets_b5b6ab6f-3df1-47a8-a486-e9753135eab7.html
EUrostat, “Water statistics.” ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Water_statistics
Carl O’Brien and Bahareh Heravi, “Irish water charges cheapest in Europe under revised package,” The Irish Times (19 Nov 2014). www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/irish-water-charges-cheapest-in-europe-under-revised-package-1.2007413
Charles Fishman, “Ireland to Charge for Water for the First Time,” National Geographic (10 February 2012). voices.nationalgeographic.com/2012/02/10/ireland-charge-for-water/