Environment Minister Dick Roche said that he will introduce a “regulatory framework” to protect those who get their water supply from small, community-owned systems.

There are over 600 of these private schemes in Ireland, serving more than 50 people each, but as many as half do not treat the water before supplying it to customers.

The Irish government is offering grants to cover the complete cost of new water treatment plants to solve this problem.

Mr Roche warned that he will not let local authorities stand in the way of better water supplies because of lack of initiative or unwillingness to change. According to the Environment Department, the government will require all water suppliers to be licensed.

“We must remember that water is a foodstuff and is usually consumed straight from the kitchen tap,” he said. “However I have a strong preference for the carrot of adequate resourcing and support as opposed to the stick of stringent legislation to encourage group schemes to move in the right direction.”

Mr Roche made the announcement at the opening of a €12 million upgrade to the water supply in the county of Sligo. It included 11 new water treatment plants, new reservoirs, metering, and pipelines.

The minister said: “This was the first project to use the concept of post-tender planning where the winning contractor had maximum flexibility to put forward cost-effective design and alternative construction methods and materials.

“The traditional, prescriptive approach straight-jacketed contractors and allowed no flexibility to introduce innovative ideas and methodologies. The Sligo project represents a win:win in terms of good planning and cost effective design and construction.”

Gretchen Hendriks

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