25/06/2002

PAC report slams ‘appalling’ level of water leakage

The assembly’s public watchdog committee has described reports that the Water Service is losing around 37% of its water, or 250 million litres per day, through leakage in its distribution system as "an appalling state of affairs".

Speaking at the launch of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report 'Water Service: Leakage Management and Water Efficiency', chairman Billy Bell said: “This is an appalling state of affairs. Even though the Water Service has spent £22 million on leakage reduction over the past four years, leakage has continued to increase. Given the poor performance to date, and the fact that a further £25 million is to be spent over the next four years on water leakage, the Water Service needs to assure itself that its processes for addressing leakage are working effectively."

In view of the scale of the leakage, the committee has questioned the Water Service's proposal to build a new source at Hog Park Point on Lough Neagh before the Economic Level of Leakage (ELL) was reached.

Mr Bell said: “We do not believe that it makes economic sense to spend taxpayer’s money to increase the supply of water into a system which is going to allow 37 per cent of that water to leak away. It is essential that Water Service can demonstrate that the new source will provide a cheaper means of meeting future demand than reducing leakage by an equivalent margin.”

However, the Regional Development Minister Peter Robinson, whose department oversees the maintenance of the water system, said that years of underfunding had contrived to produce the current utility problems.

“The study has helped to highlight the complexity of the leakage issue, which reflects the severe difficulties that underfunding has placed on the Water Service for many years," he said.

“I accept that the current level of leakage is too high and must be reduced. However, given the resources available, the Water Service had no option but to focus on public health issues, particularly the statutory obligations to comply with standards for drinking water quality and wastewater treatment.”

Mr Bell acknowledged that funding in the past had been a difficulty, however, he said it was "clear that Water Service is by no means on top of this problem".

The Water Service has estimated that over the next 10 years, £600 million will be needed for water-mains replacement alone, to bring the water distribution system up to the required standards.

(GMcG)

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