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In Praise Of Ireland’s Group Water Schemes

Water Engineer/Consultant Joe Dalton writing in Joe's Water Blog opens with:

In my second article analysing the work of the Irish Oireachtas (Parliamentary) Committee on Water, I praise the contribution of the Group Water Schemes.

Group Water Schemes – How Ireland got something right but could yet get it wrong

In this writer’s opinion, the most impressive witnesses to appear before the Joint Committee on Water were Colm Brady and Brian MacDonald of the National Federation of Group Water Schemes. How refreshing it was to hear from two home grown experts in water services. While Ireland has been struggling to provide effective water services for many decades, the Group Water Schemes have been quietly and impressively serving the needs of mostly, though not exclusively, rural parts of the country.

Their sense of professionalism, patriotism and civic duty was readily apparent. They gave a very eloquent description of the benefits of domestic metering and charging. I challenge any anti-water meter/charges activist to watch the full video below and still honestly claim that domestic metering combined with a reasonable charge doesn’t have a positive role to play in management of water services. Brady and MacDonald can hardly be accused of pursuing a privatisation or neoliberal agenda. They clearly know their subject.

Starting at 4:10, Brady and MacDonald describe how the Group Water Schemes were collectively in bad shape in the late 1990s and resulted in infringement proceedings against the state in the European Court of Justice. A system of Government grants, combined with revenue for usage above a free allowance, provided the funding which led to a gradual improvement in the quality of service, such that they are now arguably in better condition than the national public water utility, Irish Water.

Colm Brady reported how that initially the communities and management of the schemes were, as he put it, “iffy” about the benefits of domestic meters and charges. However, the implementation experience has completely allayed those concerns and led to the discovery that at least half of the leakage was on the customer side. Brady recounted his own case of a leak on his property which would not have been discovered without a domestic meter. In other cases, planned capital works such as reservoir construction was abandoned as unnecessary, once they rectified the customer side leakage.

In response to questioning from Sinn Féin’s Eoin O’Broin Teachta Dála (TD) (starting 20:05), Brian MacDonald recounted how in one particular scheme, flows from the bulk or District meter suggested that the leakage levels warranted the complete replacement of the mains. Is it best to use MacDonald’s own words:

Obviously, the bulk (District) meter did a significant job in identifying sections of main posing a problem. The tendency in the local group scheme was to believe the system was leaking like a sieve, leading to the view that the pipework should be replaced. Replacing the pipework would not have actually solved the problem because most of the loss was not in the pipe at all but on the consumer side of the connection. We could not have identified that without the individual meters. That explains what we very much tend to favour. At a number of seminars we had recently, we asked group scheme administrators which of all the technological advances of recent years has been most significant. Without exception, they replied it was the introduction of individual metering.

Given the views expressed since then by Barry Cowen TD, Eoin O’Broin TD and Paul Murphy TD, all in attendance here, that District Meters are all that is necessary to detect leakage, it might be useful if they revisited their notes from this particular meeting. Indeed, Barry Cowen described the witnesses evidence as most impressive (12:10).

The Right2Water campaign had been invited to appear before the Committee on the same date but failed to appear (They did appear at a later date). How would they have reacted to the above evidence, which completely contradicts their position? Judging by the reaction of Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy (starting at 25:15), they would have acted as if they had never heard it.

Having listened to Brain MacDonald state that universal metering combined with a reasonable charge was the “driving force behind the transformation of the sector”, Murphy declared how the anti-water charges protestors want free water for all, not just those connected to Irish Water. The response from the Group Water Scheme witnesses was effectively “thanks, but no thanks”. While state subsidies are essential, particularly with regard to capital spending, the success of the Group Water Schemes meant that in Colm Brady’s words:

On the question of eliminating charges, because of the success of the model until now, I cannot see group water charges going back to a situation where they do not have a direct contribution from members, agreed on the basis of usage.

Paul Murphy appears to have since completely blanked this exchange from his mind.

Paul Murphy @paulmurphy_TD

Papers full of arguments for water charges without any reference to the inconvenient facts that emerged at water committee.
8:18 AM - 2 Mar 2017

Some facts are perhaps more inconvenient than others.

The Group Water Schemes have undoubtedly had their challenges with ensuring that all schemes are fully compliant with all European Health and Environmental legislation, but have clearly embraced those challenges with relish. As stated by Brain MacDonald, they don’t want to be “as good as Irish Water, they want to be better”.

The successful operating model of the Group Water Schemes doesn’t conform to the ideological construct in the minds of those opposed to water charges. Here’s hoping that due to political short-sightedness and ideological inflexibility, we do not end up damaging the one part of our national water services which has been a success.

Colm Brady and Brian MacDonald, this water practitioner salutes you.

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Anthony McIntyre

Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher

2 comments to ''In Praise Of Ireland’s Group Water Schemes"

  1. Mr Dalton I have to again take you up on your condescending phraseology typical, in my experience of technocrats. Also your belligerent attitude, challenging people to some type of contest is on the same vein but one step closer to bullying and threatening.

    I wonder are you a paid lobbyist? It sure sounds like it. Your description of 'professionalism, patriotism civic duty, eloquence' and all the other over the top praise attributed to one side implies a contra sobriquet on the other. I would classify myself as 'other'.

    Your accusations regarding some of these 'others' like Paul Murphy and Right2Water is disingenuous. I don't believe Paul Murphy has blanked anything. Righ2Water, whose leadership I have many disagreements with, missed that meeting because they were occupied with a strike action.

    I am not an expert in 'group water schemes' but I do have experience with some locally, one my daughter is part of. All are not as pristine as you say, however, they must be commended for their service to people who would not have a service up to now but for their own efforts and costs. I would point you to as an example of not everything is rosy.

    I think 'up to now' is the operative word here because of the shambles successive right wing governments have made of our water system through underfunding and playing politics. I could go on about this and about policies of right wing neoliberalism but I will just say that it is a question of 'policy' or what type of water structure we have in this country is paramount.

    I have listened to many of the Oireachtas debates. I would say generally it was partisan, set up and orchestrated by Fine Gael with narrow terms of reference and selected invited submissions. As such it was hobbled.

    However, there were some interesting bits and pieces but as you have taken one little aspect and made a mountain out of it, I will point you to Scottish Water's as a counter argument. One important thing it's representative referred to was 'it's a matter of policy'. As such there are many aspects that need to be looked at not least the neoliberalism, privatisation, EU diktats and sovereignty, equality and fairness. Another aspect of the debate which has been ignored but one I firmly believe is as important and sinister as any other is the issue of 'Smart' technology.

  2. James,

    You seem to have difficultly believing someone could hold my views and not be paid for it. I can assure you I am no lobbyist. My views are the product of over 16 years in the water sector. I have been watching from a distance how my home country has been making a complete mess of its water services and just had to get my thoughts on it off my chest.

    I am well aware that many of the Group Water Schemes are challenged to fulfill all health and environmental objectives, but am very impressed with the voluntary efforts of those, such as your daughter, who work hard to make them succeed. That spirit of public service for the common good is what made the evidence of the two witnesses so impressive in my view.

    The evidence from the Group Water Schemes has been wilfully ignored by anti-water charges campaigners. Hence my criticism of them and their political advocates. I don’t think I was in anyway rude towards them. You regularly take aim at political figures you disagree with on your Buncrana Together website in much more strident terms. Rather than attack my integrity, why don’t you answer the arguments of the two witnesses. Did they impress you in any way? If not, why not?


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