Why Dublin's Water System Is At Crisis Point – And Things Are Only Going To Get Worse

Irish Water are on the case, but the situation looks pretty bleak


By Orlaith Delargy

Just what the world needs – another article about Irish water.

But wait! That's 'water' with a small 'w', for a change. This isn’t another ramble about protests, or a discussion piece about water charges being a kick in the teeth to human rights.

Scratch beneath the surface of all that, and there’s a bigger issue at play – the fact that Dublin is fast running out of water and that a new supply source urgently needs to be found.

Why on Earth would we need more water for Dublin? It rains loads here, and two years ago we had the wettest winter on record. Plus, it seems that most of our water goes missing through leaky pipes. If we just fixed those, surely we’d have plenty?

Not quite. Dublin is actually doing much better than the rest of the country in leakage terms. Current leakage levels in Dublin are the lowest in Ireland, at 33%. Compare this with poor old Roscommon, which loses 62% of its water through leaks.


Even if Dublin got its leakage rate down to zero, we wouldn’t have enough water to deal with our growing population. Two out of every five people in Ireland live in the Greater Dublin Area – that’s 1.8 million people. And the CSO forecasts this figure will hit 2.2 million by 2031. All of these new Dubliners will need houses, and all these houses will need water services. The current system simply can't cater for this increased demand.

As things currently stand, if Dublin was to crank all its water supply plants up to maximum power, we would fall well short of our long-term needs. The maximum output of these plants is 623 megalitres per day (623 Olympic-size swimming pools), and by 2050 we’ll need 870 megalitres per day just to function.

Water shortages affect citizens – think of your morning routine of shower, coffee, teeth brushing – and businesses, too. Whether it’s the heavy-hitters looking to set up in Ireland or local mom-and-pop shops, companies need to know that they can rely on a clean, secure supply of water, no matter what happens.


Last year, research from Stanford University found that Dublin was the second-most vulnerable city in the world to water shortages – and we had a taste of this in 2013, when water shortages crippled the city right in the middle of the Web Summit. These incidents embarrass Ireland on the international stage and hurt our reputation for hosting large-scale events and large-scale companies.

Think about it – if you were responsible for choosing the location of global or EMEA headquarters for a big multinational, would you choose a city that is running the risk of going dry in a couple of years? If you were organising international events, would you think twice about Dublin’s bid to be the European Capital of Culture in 2020, and host the Rugby World Cup in 2023?

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The good news is that Irish Water is on the case. They are currently looking at four options for the Water Supply Project for the East and Midlands area, three of which involve piping water across the country from Lough Derg, and one would desalinate water from the Irish Sea.

Whichever project is selected, one thing is for sure: there can be no further delays.

In the interests of our cleanliness, our coffees and our companies, the citizens of Dublin need to get on board and call for this new water source to be delivered immediately to safeguard our city region and its future generations.

Orlaith Delargy covers water policy for Dublin Chamber of Commerce

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