Irish Water: questions on plans for power outages, demand forecasting, capacity planning, Ervia FOI/AIE, and local authority staff retirement

Source: IrishWater Local Representative Support Desk

Q1. In light of Eirgrids comments in June in relation to probable Power Supply interruptions and blackouts this winter, and in light of the recent water contamination issues highlighted by a power failure in Gorey water treatment plant,  Have Irish Water (A).  Carried out a risk assessment of the impact power shortages may have on water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants nationally (B). If the answer is no, do they plan to carry out such risk assessments so that they can put in place appropriate emergency plans in the event of power failures at these plants. 

A1. In the event of an electrical outage there are controls and plans in place depending on the outage type. Irish Water has managed significant electrical outages in the past through its Incident & Crisis response teams resulting from severe weather events and a process is in place with ESBN to respond to planned electrical outages. The top critical plants have all undertaken contingency planning. Irish Water maintains direct engagement with EirGrid and ESBN and monitor/assess its existing response processes in place to manage any risks associated to electrical disruptions. Irish Water in cooperation with ESBNetworks have coordinated a Priority list of the Top 35 sites nationally that will be given precedent in any planned electrical outage event. Irish Water have also undertaken an audit of all generator backup on all of its sites nationally together with an ongoing generator installation/replacement programme.

Q2. The national census was canceled until April 2022, which means current calculations and forecasts for the supply of water and capacity of sewage networks are currently based on 2016 figures. How are Irish Water ensuring that future projections for projects are accurate and sustainable in terms of the planning framework.

A2 Irish Water utilises many reference calculations and forecast measures to assist in the provision for growth projections. One of these reference materials is the Core Strategy Tables. The purpose of the Core Strategy is to articulate a medium to longer term quantitatively based strategy for the spatial development of the area of the planning authority.

Q3. Do Irish water have a live document or system which incorporates new grants of planning on SHDs or Data centers and calculates cumulative loads of sewage and extraction of water in order to know, at what point a potential planning application may overload or impact the sustainable functioning capacity of a wastewater or water network. If not why and how does Irish Water assess if a project can be granted and give a favourable feasibility statement?

A3. In regards to the first part of the question, Irish Water does not have a live document or system which it incorporates new grants of planning as grants of planning does not always translate into connections to the Irish Water networks. However what Irish Water does record and maintain are capacity registers on our water supply and wastewater treatment assets to record for our records and provide the public with an indication of available capacity at our treatment plants. These capacity registers have been recently published online and are publicly available to view via the Irish Water website. See link below:  Irish Water has prepared these capacity registers to assist planners, developers and other persons identify where there could be sufficient water supply at water treatment plants and wastewater treatment capacity to provide for potential development. The indication of available capacity must not be taken as confirmation that a connection will be granted. Developers should liaise with Irish Water through the submission of a Pre-Connection Enquiry (PCE) in order to determine the feasibility of connection to the Irish Water network. Feasibility cannot be inferred from this register. In general the earlier that customers engage with Irish Water about a new or modified connection, the more likely it is that we will be in a position to meet their needs. Customer’s are strongly advised to contact Irish Water with a Pre-Connection Enquiry as early as possible in the project. Initial contact can be made before any application for planning permission has been made to the relevant Planning Authority. It is best to contact Irish Water to confirm the feasibility of a connection before finalising the design of a proposed development and seeking planning permission. Once a pre-connection enquiry is submitted to Irish Water a detailed technical assessment of the proposal is carried out by both the water services department in the Local Authority and the relevant sections in Irish Water including the connections and developer services department and the Asset Planning department. As part of this assessment, local constraints to both the networks and the treatment plants for water and wastewater are assessed. After assessing a pre-connection enquiry, Irish Water will confirm if a connection is technically feasible or not. We will provide the customer with Confirmation of Feasibility which can be submitted with planning applications to the Planning Authority. For further details on both the pre-connection enquiry process and the connection application process please see the links below the Irish Water website.

Q4. Do Ervia carry out any communications on behalf of Irish Water that should be subject to FOI and AIE requests but because ERVIA is not a public body such communications are not forthcoming (for example Tender documents, and calls for tender) under FOI/AIE. If yes what measures will Irish Water take to remedy this on historical documents retrospectively and going forward,  to provide the transparency that is required of a Public Body under the FOI and AIE acts

A4 Historically Irish Water operated on the basis when processing FOI and AIE requests that once a record was shared between ERVIA and Irish Water that record was therefore deemed to be held by Irish Water and was subject to the terms set down in the FOI Act and under the AIE Regulations.

Q5. What backup plan is in place if Local Authority water service employees covered under Service Level agreements decide to retire rather than transfer under new conditions to Irish Water? how will Irish Water bridge the knowledge gap?

A5 The Government’s vision for water services is based on Irish Water becoming a fully integrated, direct-labour, national utility in public ownership tasked with operating a world class public water system, as set out in the Policy Paper on Water Sector Transformation (February 2021). Irish Water value the expertise and knowledge base of all existing water services workers and our objective is to deliver a national water utility with everyone working together as one team. Talks are currently underway at the Workplace Relations Commission with the aim of reaching agreement on a Framework for the future delivery of water services. As part of planning for a fully integrated water services utility, it is proposed that a detailed business continuity plan will be developed for each Local Authority. These plans will document continuity arrangements and contingency plans for all critical processes, including knowledge transfer as appropriate.

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