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Public utility proposed to manage water resources

The IEN NSDS submission in 2008 proposed trusts for each river basin district in Ireland that would monitor, protect and also charge for water use by local authorities and others. John Fitzgerald of the ESRI has also spotted the synergies and efficiencies to be gained by removing water services from direct local authority control.  But sadly, he does not accept or understand the ‘commons’  nature of  water resources and argues for a public/ private hybrid that that confuses what should be a clear issue of claiming and saving the ‘natural capital’  of the Irish people.

From the Irish Times….

OLIVIA KELLY

A PUBLIC utility company should be established to manage water resources and levy water charges nationally, one of the State’s leading economists has said.

Prof John FitzGerald, chief economist with the ESRI, said responsibility for all water infrastructure and resources, including waste-water treatment plants, should be transferred to a new utility, which would be similar to the ESB.

The utility, which should remain public and not be privatised, would be financed through the levying of water charges. This would then allow it to raise investment money and would remove the need for direct State investment in water infrastructure.

Speaking at an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conference on local authority waste prevention programmes, Prof FitzGerald said the example of waste collection charges based on weight or volume proved that people responded to user-based charging.

“If you introduce water charges without metering, it will not do anything to reduce usage. Water charges should only come in when there are meters, where people are charged for what they use.”

The creation of a centralised water utility to collect charges, manage water resources and handle customer billing and complaints would deliver huge benefits in terms of efficiency, Prof FitzGerald said.

“I’m not suggesting we send someone down from Dublin to fix a leak in Belmullet, but a properly financed national water utility would be able to pool resources and create efficiencies.”

The utility should not be introduced until after metering had been established and there was an income from charges to fund its operations, he said.

The conference also heard that local authority waste prevention programmes, within their own offices and working with businesses and the community, were saving almost €1 million a year through a variety of waste, water and energy measures .

County councils involved in the agency’s national waste prevention programme, had succeeded in saving 37,500 tonnes of water, 1,530,000 kilowatt hours of energy and preventing or diverting 2,300 tonnes of waste a year.

“The EPA’s aim is to help to develop a network of prevention experts in Ireland’s local authorities that have the expertise and motivation to work with business, public organisations and communities, to reduce the volume of waste generated,” the agency’s director, Laura Burke, said.

Grant aid of €1 million a year was available under the programme to assist local authorities in putting waste prevention programmes in place. Projects undertaken since the programme was introduced six years ago concentrated on initiatives to reduce paper use, food waste, packaging and water and energy use and to change the behaviour and attitude of local authority staff, as well as external businesses and the community to their use of resources.

Sectors involved included the construction industry; farms; healthcare facilities; schools and colleges, retail and hospitality and tourism.

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