Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dublin's Water Crisis Revisited

Now that water supplies have returned to normal throughout the country it is time to look back at what happened. The problem during the intense cold weather with burst pipes and excessive demand caused by families forced to stay at home while also leaving taps running overnight night to prevent pipes freezing drove up demand well beyond the supply capacity of 545 MLD peaking at 625 MLD. So while demand is now well within capacity we will be faced with exactly the same problem the next time we have a severe cold spell.

Our real problem in Dublin is that demand is steadily rising and is estimated to reach a staggering 800MLD over the next 25 years. Couple this demand figure with expected summer rainfall reductions of 20-30% and a temperatures increase of 1.0-1.5 degrees C by 2050, the problem of supply shortfalls can only get worse. Plans are in place to transfer water from the Shannon to storage lakes in Offaly and then supplied to Dublin as required. However, we may need to look seriously at alternative actions. Many have called for greater leakage reduction; however, leakage in Dublin is down from a high of 43% in 1990 to the current level of 29%, although leakage of 40% is common in some of the hub towns around the capital. Although it is planned to reduce leakage in Dublin to 20% by 2031, this is probably unrealistic due to cost. Most utilities with similar distribution infrastructure to that of Dublin are only managing about 24% on average requiring huge and continuous investment annually to maintain this level. Leakage is a fact of life and even after decades of investment UK water utilities are still loosing 3,275 MLD from their mains. What is clear is that for over a decade in Ireland we have focused on improving surface water quality rather than investing sufficiently in water supply infrastructure and water conservation. Given the current financial situation it may now be too late. For that reason it makes even greater sense to adopt a water demand management approach to our water supply problems. This is the focus of the research being conducted by Jennifer Brady a member of Water Technology Research Group.

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