Ireland: Water Services Bill 2003 published

The publication of Ireland's Water Services Bill 2003 was announced this week by Environment Minister, Martin Cullen. It is designed to consolidate Ireland's existing body of 15 different enactments into a single act.

Welcoming its publication, the Minister said: "We have seen the transformation of Ireland's water and waste water services in the past 15 years. Investment in this area continues at an all time high. Like the Victorian sewers which we have upgraded or replaced, this Bill replaces Victorian legislation with a new modern legal framework."

The Bill only covers issues surrounding the management of "water in the pipe" - ie from the time that it enters a supply pipe to the point of its subsequent discharge again to the environment as treated waste water. It does not seek to take on board wider environmental issues surrounding water resources such as river basin management and pollution prevention.

The new legislation will:

  • consolidate water services into a single modern code;
  • provide the Minister with direct supervisory powers over delivery of public water services;
  • introduce a licensing system to regulate the operations of group water services schemes;
  • place duties of care on users of water services in relation to water conservation and prevention of risk to public health and the environment.

The licensing system will mean the largest 1,500 group water schemes will have to get a licence and meet stringent conditions before they will be allowed to continue in business.

Under these arrangements, local authorities will be given powers to prosecute group water schemes if they provide polluted water supplies. Previously, councils found it very difficult to take legal action against poorly performing group water schemes, and last January the EPA reported that 30% of all water schemes were contaminated by unacceptable faecal coliforms.

Mr Cullen admitted that the introduction of licensing takes place against the background of recent European Court of Justice judgement against Ireland in relation to quality problems in the group water services sector.

He said that licensing will bring a "new level of professionalism to the sector and provide a reliable mechanism to ensure that EU drinking water quality standards are complied with".


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