Cork East Constituency Fine Gael TD, David Stanton, has proposed that residential customers in East Cork affected by the ongoing boil water notice on the Whitegate Public Water Supply should be compensated for the cost of buying water.
Around 9,500 people in and around Whitegate, Aghada, Cloyne, Saleen, Ballinacurra and Midleton receive water through the Whitegate Public Water Supply where Irish Water / Uisce Éireann has put in place a boil water notice at various intervals since January 2016. Turbidity issues with the supply, particularly after instances of heavy rainfall, have seen the water become unsuitable for consumption with the current notice ongoing since October 2022. Uisce Éireann has recognised the need for the development of a new waste water treatment plant in Whitegate and has outlined a timeline for construction to commence in 2024, with the plant expected to be completed in late 2025.
Currently only business customers affected by any such notice are eligible for compensation while residential customers must cover the associated costs of buying replacement water.
Raising the matter with the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Malcolm Noonan TD, in the Dáíl chamber, David Stanton said: “Residents in East Cork cannot rely on their water supply. Up to 10,000 customers are affected. They have to spend between €1.39 and €1.49 on 5 litres of water from local supermarkets. This adds up to a minimum of €16 per month for a recommended consumption of 2 litres of water per day and a minimum of €64 per month for a family of four. That is just the cost of buying the water. It does not include the cost of boiling water as well. These numbers highlight the urgency of the matter.
“In fact, the price of water has increased by almost 10 cent for 5 litres since I last raised the matter. In the meantime, affected households continue to either boil their water or else bear the cost of purchasing plastic water bottles, which adds to the overuse of plastic, something the Minister of State and I do not like to see happen. He will appreciate this is adding in a major way to household costs and adding to the proliferation of single-use plastic.
“The Minister of State and everyone here will appreciate the time-consuming nature of this entire process, particularly for households with dependent individuals, whether they be children, older people or people with disabilities. Safe water must never be a luxury. It is a foundation of basic and healthy everyday life. I understand that, despite the cost involved to families, there currently is no form of compensation mechanism, although businesses in the same situation are entitled to a discount on bills, which is applied automatically. I believe we need to look into compensating the families as well.
“Another issue that has arisen recently relates to the regularity of updates. While the last boil water notice was issued in October 2022 – and has not been lifted since – there has been no further information issued since 16 March. Heavy rain causes turbidity in the water but there has not been rain for quite a while. Neither has there been an update from Irish Water with respect to when it expects this to be lifted. Residents in the area, my constituents, are anxious to learn if there have been any improvements in the interim. All of this is adding to local household costs and increasing concerns ahead of the summer months when water consumption is expected to be at its highest”.
Confirming that planning permission for the new Whitegate Waste Water Treatment Plant was granted on 23 May, Minister Noonan responded to say that “The water charges plan sets out a compensation mechanism when water quality is compromised and unfit for human consumption, such as when boil water and drinking water restriction notices apply. Business customers who pay charges are entitled to a rebate under the customer handbook as agreed with the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU). Adjustments are made via customers’ bills. This only applies to water used for drinking.
“The Deputy will appreciate that the compensation is for business customers as they are particularly put out, especially coffee shops, restaurants and bars, for example, which is why the scheme exists. I will also convey the ask set out in the question about compensation for consumers. It is a matter for Uisce Éireann and its water charges plan but I accept that almost 10,000 people have been badly affected and put out by having to buy bottled water daily. It is difficult when people have young babies and use baby formula; it is a huge inconvenience.
The Minister concluded by saying that: “The Department’s priority is to ensure that people’s health is protected and that adequate water is available to all consumers. We all want to see this notice lifted without undue delay but only when the HSE and EPA have confirmed the water supply is safe can we do so. I take on board the points the Deputy made and will convey them to the Minister for Housing and, in due course, to Uisce Éireann”.