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Bad news: Wettest country in Europe might… run out of water?

Perhaps the present heat – so bad that RTE news on Saturday night basically played the role of fun-spoiling teacher on a school tour, listing all the things viewers should not do in the good weather, before a final exhortation to “enjoy yourselves – has made us all forget it, but this past June was one of the wettest on record.

In fact, from June 18th until the end of the month, there was not one day without rainfall. Indeed, my personal experience was that at the end of June, the river near our home almost burst its banks. Of all the problems Ireland might have in 30 degree heat for a few days, this really should not be one of them. And yet, via the Irish Times:

Water supplies are coming “under pressure” in several areas around Ireland, with the warm spell and hiked demand from holidaymakers threatening to further squeeze reservoirs, Irish Water is warning.

It is asking people to shorten showers, turn off taps and reuse bath water as the temperature reached over 29 degrees on Sunday, and is expected rise further today. While the utility has “no plans” at this stage to bring in restrictions, it has been forced to take action to protect supplies in areas in the south, west and midlands.

Parts of Co Cork and Co Tipperary, as well as Carron in Co Clare and Inis Oirr, Co Galway have already been identified as areas of concern, where Irish Water is “taking actions to manage and protect supplies at present”.

A number of rural areas have also begun to come under pressure, particularly in the south and midlands, according to Mary O’Hara, spokeswoman for Irish Water. “Areas are being closely monitored at this point,” she said.

This really, surely, is a matter of basic competence, no?

Yes, of course, there are some complicating matters. One of the things about living in (one of the) wettest countries in western Europe, for example, is that as a general rule, we face drought much more rarely than, say, the Spanish. As a result, it is probably prudent that we invest less in water storage than they do. We simply do not need as much water storage as those in a hotter country, because we have more rain. In fact, when it rains as much as it does here, reservoirs overflowing is probably a more regular problem than reservoirs drying out.

If and when you hear that line trotted out on the radio, though, remember one thing: It’s an excuse. Not a reasonable explanation.

The mandate of Irish water is to secure our water supply. Not only that, but to secure it against threats. Hot weather in July, I’d gently venture, is an eminently foreseeable threat. The kind of thing that might not come to pass every summer, sure, but also the kind of thing that the people in charge of the nation’s water supply should be entirely prepared for.

It would be one thing if we were now in week six or seven of an unprecedented summer heatwave, and it hadn’t rained in over a month. At that stage, you’d be reaching the point where it might be reasonable to say that nobody working in Irish water could have been expected to foresee a situation like this developing. But this has been…. Three days?

Irish Water, while we’re on the subject, are very proud of their own performance. At least, if we judge it on the bonuses paid out for performance last year:

Irish Water has paid out more than €10.1m in performance related pay to its staff over the past two years.

Bonus pay to workers at the utility was up more than 4% last year when it paid €5.176m to 789 eligible employees.

I would argue, incidentally, that this kind of pattern of excuse making is too common, right across Irish public services: For example, the health service seems caught unawares, every winter, when a flu (or in latter years, covid) spike suddenly increases demand on beds. The department of education appears to have been caught out this summer by the need to correct exam papers. The airport in Dublin appears to have been entirely unprepared for a summer rush on holidays. And the Government which advertised free homes for asylum seekers seems entirely stunned at the number of asylum applications this year.

We can just add Irish waters’ mild surprise at a sunny July to the list of things that seems to catch Irish public services unawares.

Anyway, god forbid Climate Change really does turn the world into a furnace by 2090 or so. That’s not nearly enough time for Irish Water to prepare.

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