The prospect of fixing Ireland’s water infrastructure is a once-in-a-generation engineering challenge, according to Irish Water's Jerry Grant
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The prospect of fixing Ireland’s water infrastructure is a once-in-a-generation engineering challenge, Irish Water acting managing director Jerry Grant told delegates at Engineers Ireland’s Annual Conference.

Grant was speaking at the Engineers Ireland Annual Conference, which took place in the Hotel Kilkenny last week (15 April). He added that fundamentally, Ireland has the water resources to have a sustainable water supply and if managed properly should maintain high quality in its waste waters.

Grant made the point that since the 1970s Ireland has experienced massive transformation, both industrial and societal. Ireland’s towns and cities have grown hugely over the last 50 years and Grant believes that, through the local authorities, the increased demand in water supply and waste water has been met sufficiently as this growth has taken place.

“The challenge for local authorities has been to deliver that in the context of the occasional availability of money to invest and then when they had to get by on very little and the infrastructure was essentially going into decline.

“The reality of a major asset base that delivers any kind of spatial distributed service is that it needs constant upgrading and constant maintenance,” said Grant

“That is really the focus for our next significant change in the way in which we deliver water services,” he said.

Grant went on to identify a number of the major issues that need to be addressed in terms of water supply and management in Ireland.

“Critical assessment of 870 water supplies over the last two years demonstrated that approximately 470 of those are not intrinsically safe. That is not to say that the water is not fit for purpose but when you look at the source, the treatment arrangements and the distribution arrangements, you can see that there are one or more risk factors that need to be addressed in the context of a modern water supply.

“We are losing practically half of our water supply through leakage and that is not an accident. The reality is that we focus most of our investment on treatment, compliance and on growth.”

Irish Water’s plan from 2014 and 2021


Irish water has set out to invest €5.5 billion in capital which is designed to take the critical issues and resolve them to an acceptable level.

“We intend, through the transformation of the water sector, to achieve €1.1 billion euros in operational efficiencies – which is a critical component of the €5.5 billion we then want to spend on capital.

“We have to meet the critical service needs of citizens. We have real challenges about how to manage investments so that we cater for growth without spending money on developing areas and lands for development that are not taken up in the short term – we don’t want stranded assets.

“We know there is huge demand across the country for development areas to be serviced around towns and villages. Will it be utilised? Will that money be effectively used? We have got to have the certainty that we are spending money sensibly because it is limited.”

Grant went on to discuss the need to introduce best strategic practices, referencing the success of Scottish Water as an example of what can be achieved through a state owned water company.

“We must operate our plans to standard operating procedures with planned maintenance processes – we need to bring the skill levels of our operatives up to a standard so that they know what needs to be done as the circumstances change.

“We recognise that we want to have a state owned utility which has all of that capacity; for example, when we look across at Scottish Water we can see precisely that. A state owned water company that has, over a period of about 15 years, gone from a very difficult start to what is today a world ranked utility.”

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The prospect of fixing Ireland’s water infrastructure is a once-in-a-generation engineering challenge, Irish Water acting managing director Jerry Grant told delegates at Engineers Ireland’s Annual Conference. Grant was speaking at the Engineers Ireland Annual Conference, which took place in the Hotel Kilkenny last week (15 April). He added that fundamentally,...