28/02/2002

Spending watchdog attempts to turn tide on Water Service

Northern Ireland's Water Service has been brought to book by a public spending watchdog to explain why it has the worst record in the UK for wasting water.

The Stormont Assembly's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) asked representatives from the Water Service on Thursday February 28 why more than a third of all water supplies are lost through leaks.

John Dallat, member of the PAC, said the Water Service was a “giant sieve which needs plugged”. He said: “The Department [of Regional Development] must accept there isn’t a bottomless well of money to continue pumping money into a water service while millions of gallons goes no-where.”

The public accounts committee took evidence from the permanent secretary of the Department of Regional Development, Nigel Hamilton, at the public session.

Mr Hamilton indicated on Thursday that they would not go ahead with this programme and instead tackle leakage head on and build on existing sources.

A report by the Audit Office last year revealed that 253 million of the 692 million litres of water produced everyday is lost as a result of leaks.

The Service put the blame on an elderly system and insufficient funding to deal with the problem, the office reported.

In 1998, the Water Service set a target to reduce leaks by three per cent, but the amount of leakage rose that year by nine per cent.

The service had planned to tap into Lough Neagh, the biggest fresh water lake in the UK, to help replenish the lost water. However, it has decided not to go ahead with this scheme.

Meanwhile the Minister for Regional Development has announced his department intends to invest £25 million, most of which will go into leakage detection and repair over the next four years. (AMcE)

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