The Water Services Sector in Ireland
This section provides a brief history of and background to the water services sector in Ireland.
The section also presents some current information on Ireland’s public water network, categories of water consumer, and the main parties who regulate Ireland’s water sector.
Until Irish Water was established in 2013, public water services in Ireland were provided by 34 (now 31) separate Local Authorities (LA's) across 26 counties. Water services under the LA's were mainly funded through Government taxation, with LA's having certain discretion in setting charges for water services in their locality. This led to charging structures that varied widely across the country from one county to another.
There was a recognised need for a strategic national approach to water and wastewater service delivery in Ireland. Therefore the decision was taken by Government to establish a single national public water utility. On the 1st January 2014 responsibility for water services transferred from the LA's to Irish Water. Local authorities currently continue to act as agents for Irish Water, providing services for the utility under Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
Irish Water must ensure that customers in Ireland enjoy a high quality of water and environment by improving water services and addressing challenges faced, which include:
- Under-investment in water and wastewater infrastructure
- Funding uncertainty
- Meeting water quality standards and potential EU fines
- Compliance with EU legislative requirements
- Delivering value for money
- Security of water supply
Ireland's public water services network
According to Irish Water’s Investment Plan (2017-2021), on a daily basis, Irish Water’s assets are used in the abstraction, treatment and delivery of c. 1,700 million litres of drinking water. This is delivered through c. 1,000 separate water supply areas (public water supply zones) to customers.
Irish Water also collects wastewater from over 1,000 separate communities connected to the wastewater network (wastewater zones known as “agglomerations”) and treats c. 1,600 million litres of wastewater daily, before it discharges it back into Ireland’s rivers, estuaries and coastal areas.
Irish Water reported in 2016 that the public network consisted of:
- 63,000km of mapped water pipelines;
- 25,000km of wastewater pipelines (estimated);
- Approx. 900 water treatment plants;
- Approx. 1,100 wastewater treatment plants;
- 1,610 water storage reservoirs and towers;
- 1,060 water pumping stations; and
- 1,163 wastewater pumping stations.
Water service consumers in Ireland
The main water/wastewater consumer groups in Ireland include those who are customers of Irish Water, those with their own private water supplies/wastewater solutions and those who are members of group water schemes. The various categories are explained below.
Irish Water customers
You are a customer of Irish Water if your property is connected to and supplied by the public water main, and/or your property is connected to the public sewer for wastewater removal.
- Domestic Use Customers - Domestic water use is the personal use of water within a household.
- Business Customers - Business water users include offices, restaurants, industry, agriculture, etc.
- Mixed-Use Customers - Some Irish Water customers may use water services at a premises for both business and domestic purposes. This is called 'mixed usage.' Mixed-use premises may include farms with a farmhouse, B&B's, or retail units with residential accommodation located above them.Under current charging arrangements, mixed-use customers are charged as business customers. Therefore, water charges apply to the water used for business purposes over and above the standard domestic allowance previously set by the Local Authority.
Private supplies (non-customers of Irish Water)
You are not a customer of Irish Water for water/wastewater services if:
- Water: Your property is not connected to the public water main for your water supply (you may instead have a private well).
- Wastewater: Your property is not connected to the public sewer for wastewater removal (you may have a septic tank or other onsite wastewater treatment system).
Group water schemes
These schemes are formed by two or more properties (generally located in rural areas) coming together to provide their own common water supply. Group water schemes can source their water supply from the public mains (by purchasing water in bulk from Irish Water) or a private source like a well or lake.
You generally have to pay for your water if you belong to a private group water scheme, with some of the water services costs subsidised by the government. If the members of a group water scheme wish for Irish Water to take over the running of the scheme, they can do so by applying directly to Irish Water.
The CRU does not regulate private group water schemes. However, if a group water scheme is connected to Irish Water’s water and/or wastewater network then the scheme will be considered a business customer of Irish Water and the CRU will regulate water charges at the bulk meter.
The National Federation of Group Water Schemes is the representative organisation for private and part-private group water schemes in Ireland.
Regulating the public water sector in Ireland
Commission for Regulation of Energy Utilities (CRU): Irish Water’s economic regulator.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA is Irish Water’s environmental regulator. It enforces environmental legislation and monitors Irish Water's environmental responsibilities.
The Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government (DHPLG): The DHPLG protects and improves water resources in Ireland by implementing national and European policy regarding water services and water quality.