In his third article on the Irish Oireachtas (Parliamentary) Committee on Water, Joe Dalton, a Water Engineer/Consultant shares his views on district water metering. The piece initially featured on Joe's Water Blog.
Given the political focus in Ireland on District Meters, in my third article on the Irish Oireachtas (Parliamentary) Committee on Water I focus on their use, or lack thereof, in Ireland up to now.
There has been much deliberation by various Committee members on the benefits of District Metering. Why they ask, couldn’t we have had District Metering to help sort out our leakage problems? Wouldn’t this have been better than domestic metering? If only we could have had the advice from the more enlightened water utilities in Scotland and Wales we could have avoided so many problems.
When the benefits of District Metering were highlighted in the Expert Commission report I was gratified to hear various political figures, including many I often disagree with, mentioning this aspect of water network management and highlighting its importance. There is something pleasing about having your day job which you have been quietly working on for many years, albeit not in Ireland in my case, appreciated at a political level. However, I must confess to tiring of the notion, stated week after week at the Committee meetings, that District Metering is the greatest thing since sliced bread and as if this is some sort of new discovery unearthed by the Committee.
District Metered Areas (DMAs) have been in use since the early 1980s as a water loss management tool and are common practice among global water utilities, including Ireland. Personally, I have been working with them for well over 10 years in many countries. There are some practitioners who believe they aren’t the most effective water loss management tool, but that is a debate for another day. For now, the point is that they are “established practice” for managing water losses in Ireland and have been so for a long time.
The Managing Director of Irish Water, Jerry Grant, reported that there are 4,417 District Meters installed across the state, far more than in Scotland, which has a similar population. Yet Scottish Water have successfully brought leakage down while Irish Water and its predecessors in the 34 local authorities have not. The reasons why are to do with the fact that in 2013, when Irish Water was established, 50% of the District Meters were not operating correctly. Clearly some of the 34 local authorities were challenged to maintain them. It would indeed be interesting to know how they compared with each other in this regard. It would also be interesting to know what the current level of operability is, assuming Irish Water have improved the situation. These questions were unfortunately not asked by the Committee members.
Unlike the situation in Ireland, Scottish Water have the advantage of a secure revenue stream from domestic and commercial charging, which allows them to plan their Operation and Maintenance (O&M) activities, including District Meter maintenance and leakage control. It was interesting to hear Maria Graham from the Department of Housing, Planning, Communities and Local Government describe how, before Irish Water was established, water engineers in the 34 local authorities would fight for their slice of the particular local authority annual budget. This is no way to run water services and helps explain why practically every country except Ireland transferred responsibility for water services provision to a specialist utility provider several decades ago. But of course, we like to do things differently in Ireland.
So yes, District Metering is a very useful tool in water loss management. The Committee is correct to recognise this. But there is no need for them to overly dwell on that fact. And it is certainly not the only tool in the box. The reasons why 50% of District Meters were not functioning, and what Irish Water has done to rectify this situation, most certainly are appropriate for the Committee to consider however.