Working arrangements need to change to cut water risks at Kildare and other plants says Irish Water

Irish Water statement to Joint Oireachtas committee

Henry Bauress

Reporter:

Henry Bauress

Email:

henry.bauress@leinsterleader.ie

Working arrangements need to change to cut water risks at Kildare and other plants says Irish Water

File Photo

Irish Water said that that there are a number of operational issues that must be addressed in the interim, under the current

Service level agreement with local authorities, to reduce risks that currently exist to the provision of safe and reliable water services to its  customers,” it said in a statement to

Joint Committee on Housing Planning & Local

Government Committee meeting on November 5.

The company also said it needs to be able to contact plant operators directly when an alarm is triggered. “Under the current working arrangements this is not possible.”

Irish Water is carrying out a review of the filter upgrade programme underway

at the old plant to expedite its completion, bearing in mind current water supply

headroom challenges.

SEE ALSO: Funding of Irish Water questioned by Kildare politicians

We put comments by TD Paul Murphy, former Kildare County Councillor, Brendan Young and Cllr Ciara Galvin to Irish Water.

 See story Kildare question for Irish Water

In its reply it included the opening statement on behalf of Irish Water to the  recent Joint Oireachtas committee by Niall Gleeson, Managing Director of Irish Water.

Mr Gleeson was accompanied  by Michael O’Leary Irish Water Head of Asset Operations and Katherine Walshe, Irish Water Head of Environmental Regulation.

SEE ALSO: more Kildare stories

The invitation issued to Irish Water by the Committee on October 24 requested an

update on issues affecting the quality of drinking water, boil water notices nationwide

and specifically, the boil water notice imposed on customers in Dublin, Kildare and

Meath supplied by the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant October 22-25..

Mr Gleeson apologised to all affected customers for the inconvenience

caused by the imposition of this boil water notice. “II welcome the opportunity to

explain to the committee how this event occurred, what actions we have taken, how

we intend to mitigate the risk of it happening again and to provide some additional

relevant information which I hope is useful.

He said: “Irish Water has a comprehensive compliance monitoring programme in place for every public water supply in the country to ensure that drinking water quality is adequately

monitored and complies with legislation.

Since Irish Water was established in 2014 we have significantly improved water quality

monitoring on public drinking water supplies. More rigorous sampling and testing

regimes have been put in place, for example the number of tests for Cryptosporidium

and Giardia have doubled from 789 in 2014 to 1,566 in 2018. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Health Service Executive (HSE), who

have responsibility for regulating drinking water quality and protecting public health

respectively, now have a single point of contact for all water quality issues nationally.

Water quality risks and failures are identified sooner, corrective action can be taken

quickly, and the risk to public health from poor water quality has been reduced

significantly. Of course we have more work to do in this area.

“The quality of public drinking water in Ireland remains high with microbiological

compliance at 99.87% and chemical compliance at 99.63% as outlined in the 2018

EPA Drinking Water Quality Report.

“All drinking water must be treated before being consumed to remove biological and

chemical contaminants that can be harmful to human health. Bacteria from animal or

human waste and parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia are commonly found

in open water bodies. These organisms can cause gastrointestinal illness in humans.

Following consultation with the HSE, a boil water notice is imposed where water

treatment may be inadequate to eliminate the risk of illness from microbiological

contamination. There are 17 boil water notices in place nationally impacting on

approximately 14,000 people. The largest is on Lough Talt in Sligo, affecting 12,500

people, where there is a risk of Cryptosporidium contamination. The majority of the

other boil water notices relate to areas where treated water requires additional

disinfection contact time, a problem identified through Irish Water’s National

Disinfection Programme. Due to work underway by Irish Water, four of the seventeen

notices are on track to be lifted in 2019, with most of the others including Lough Talt

on track to be lifted in 2020.

“The Greater Dublin Area (GDA) drinking water supply serves all of Dublin and parts of

Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. Drinking water in the GDA is supplied from a number of

sources, predominantly the River Liffey (85%) and River Vartry (10%). Water is

produced in Dublin on a 24 hour basis and the total water production capacity is 612

ML/d, which can reduce to 580 ml/d due to weather, drought or algal blooms for

example. Demand for water in the GDA varies but the average daily demand is 570

ML/d increasing to 600 ML/d at times of high demand. Headroom or spare capacity

in available water in Dublin is therefore between 10 and 40ML/d, which is extremely

limited. The severe lack of resilience in Dublin’s water supply is an urgent challenge

that is being addressed by Irish Water.

“The Leixlip Water Treatment Plant (WTP) is the second largest water treatment plant in

Ireland. The largest is at Ballymore Eustace. Leixlip supplies treated drinking water to

over 600,000 people in Dublin, Kildare and Meath (approximately one third of the

Greater Dublin Area), including healthcare facilities, industry and many large

commercial customers. Leixlip WTP is operated by Fingal County Council under a

Service Level Agreement (SLA) with Irish Water.

“Leixlip WTP currently produces 195 ML/d of treated drinking water, with a maximum

production of 210 ML/d. Due to the phased expansion of Leixlip WTP since it first

opened in 1967, current operations on the site are carried out across a number of

plants known as the “old plant” (built by PCI in the 1970s and upgraded by McMahon

Philips in the 1990s) and the “new plant” (built by AECOM in 2014). The old plant

produces two thirds of the water at Leixlip.

“In 2019 there have been a number of low level detections of Giardia (10 detections)

and Cryptosporidium (1 detection) in treated water at Leixlip. These test results were

reported to the EPA and the HSE and not deemed to be an immediate risk to public

health. Given the detections, in consultation with HSE, Irish Water doubled its

monitoring programme for Cryptosporidium and Giardia at the plant in August 2019.

We are currently upgrading the filter beds in the old plant and ideally we would take

the plant out of service and complete this upgrading quickly and efficiently.

Unfortunately the lack of headroom in Dublin’s water supply means that the plant must

remain operational and we have to do this work on a phased basis. This work started

in 2018 and will be completed next year.

“In March 2019 there was a mechanical failure of a chemical dosing pump at the new

plant. An on-site alarm was triggered but was not responded to. The incident was

reported at the time to the EPA and the HSE who did not consider the failure to be a

risk to public health. Water produced remained safe to drink. The EPA conducted an

audit of the new plant on March 22..

“Following recommendations made by the EPA in their March audit, the auto shutdown

requested by them was completed in the new plant. A contract was issued to install

auto shutdown at the old plant but this work had not been completed when the incident

occurred on October 21.

On Monday, October 21 a mechanical failure occurred on a piece of equipment at the

old plant at Leixlip. I will describe the events that followed this failure.

At 3.15pm a blockage occurred in a chemical delivery line leading to a failure

of a pressure release valve. No pump alarm activated as the failure point was

downstream of the pumps.

“At 5pm turbidity levels in filtered water started to increase as a result of the

delivery line failure. Turbidity is cloudiness in water due to suspended particles.

At 6.16pm increasing turbidity in filtered water triggered an on-site alarm and

sent an SMS text alert. The alarm was not responded to and turbidity continued

to rise.

“At 7.07pm an on-site high turbidity alarm was activated on the clarified water.

The alarm was not responded to and turbidity continued to rise.

“At 9.15pm an off-site plant manager who had logged on remotely to the Leixlip

plant noticed the activation of turbidity alarms and the lack of response on site.

“The alarm was investigated and a contractor was called to clear the pipe

blockage and carry out a temporary repair to the pressure release valve.

From 10.15pm to 11.30pm the repair was completed. A decision was taken to

temporarily shut down the old plant to allow the treatment process to stabilise.

Between 11.30pm and 5am Tuesday, October 22, the old plant was gradually

brought back into operation.

“The automatic plant shut off did not happen when the alarms were not responded to

as this facility was not yet in place at the old plant.

The new plant at Leixlip continued to produce drinking water that met all drinking water

quality standards while the incident was ongoing at the old plant. However as the

drinking water produced at both plants is mixed when it enters the network, all areas

supplied by the plant were impacted by the issues that occurred at the old plant.

Irish Water was first notified of the incident at the old plant by Fingal County Council

at 9.45am on Tuesday, October 22We immediately contacted the HSE and EPA.

“We were in discussions with them throughout the day to review plant performance

data and determine the level of risk to public health arising from the incident and the

appropriate course of action. Following consultation with HSE a decision was taken at

4.30pm on Tuesday, October 22 to impose a boil water notice on customers supplied

by Leixlip WTP. Irish Water Crisis Management Team (CMT) which was on standby,

formally convened at 5pm and notification to customers began immediately.

 

 

Mr Gleeson continued: “Irish Water’s foremost priority throughout the period of the boil water notice was to protect public health and to advise all customers as quickly as possible. The first task of CMT was to issue widespread communications with immediate effect. Given the

number and geographic spread of customers affected, multiple communication

channels were used with emphasis on mass communication and prioritising proactive

contact with vulnerable customer and large water users.

A press release with detailed advice and information and a map of the affected area

was issued to national media in time for 6pm news bulletins on Tuesday, October 22.

This information was posted on our website and on social media channels and briefed

into our contact centre. We directly contacted our registered vulnerable customers

and an email went to all elected representatives in the affected areas. We contacted

large commercial and industrial customers and worked with stakeholders to identify

critical users like hospitals, schools, nursing homes and crèches. Engagement with

customers, stakeholders and media continued through Wednesday, Thursday and

Friday. A more detailed interactive map of the areas affected was also posted on the

website and shared widely. Further details of customer communications are provided

in the appendix to this statement.

I would like to thank the media, elected representatives, local authorities, business

and industry groups, government departments and all who extensively and proactively

shared our advice to customers while the boil water notice was in place.

Irish Water’s website experienced difficulty on Tuesday, October  22 due to very high

volumes of traffic to the site. Our IT teams worked throughout Tuesday evening to

rectify the situation and by Wednesday morning the website was fully operational. This

was clearly not satisfactory and we are working to ensure that the site can cope with

high volumes in future.

“On Wednesday, October 23 Irish Water sought to identify clear criteria for lifting the

boil water notice as quickly as possible while still ensuring no risk to public health.

Lifting criteria agreed with the HSE and EPA were as follows: Satisfactory sample results for Giardia and Cryptosporidium; a satisfactory EPA Audit of the old plant; confirmation that all remaining “at risk” water had passed through or was

removed from the network.

“The result of the first sample covering the period of the incident

was available on the morning of October 24 and water quality was satisfactory.

Results of the second and third drinking water quality samples taken on October 22/23 were returned on Friday, October 25 and these water samples were also

satisfactory.

“EPA inspectors carried out an audit of Leixlip WTP on Thursday,

October 24, accompanied by the HSE, Irish Water and Fingal County Council. Initial

feedback from the EPA at the site indicated they were satisfied from a technical

perspective that the boil water notice could be lifted. The final audit report from the

EPA issued on October 30.

“Irish Water carried out extensive network modelling to work out

how much of the water produced at Leixlip on 21st and 22nd October was still in the

network on October 24. Proactive flushing was carried out by Fingal County Council

on Friday 25th October to remove any remaining “at risk” water from the extremities of

the network.

“Irish Water continued discussions with the HSE and the EPA during Friday,

October 25 to ensure all criteria agreed were met to allow the boil water notice to be lifted.

The HSE confirmed at 4.30pm that they were satisfied that the boil water notice could

be lifted and this was communicated immediately and as widely as possible to all

customers and stakeholders through all available communication channels.

 

 

 

“The following immediate actions have been taken.

“Irish Water was in ongoing contact with senior staff at Fingal County Council

throughout the period of the boil water notice. Discussions are ongoing at a

senior level to prevent another incident like this at Leixlip.

“The Leixlip WTP is already staffed on a 24 hour basis and Irish Water has

requested that Fingal County Council increase staffing at the plant to ensure an

appropriate level of vigilance and eliminate the risk of an alarm not being

responded to in future.

Irish Water will work with Fingal County Council to agree more on-site presence

by Irish Water staff at Leixlip WTP.

Irish Water is looking at all potential enhancements to operations that will further

safeguard water quality at Leixlip WTP and all other large plants nationally.

Automatic shut off at the old plant is now operational.

“It’s worth highlighting that automatic shut off should be an option of last resort. In a plant with 24 hour staffing as alarms should be responded to and a shut off takes the plant completely out of production. Shutting down and restarting a water treatment plant brings its own risks, and given Dublin’s lack of headroom, this could also present serious supply challenges.

“Irish Water is in the process of bringing all critical alarms nationally into our National Operations Management Centre. For this to be beneficial however Irish Water need to be able to contact plant operators directly when an alarm is triggered. Under the current working arrangements this is not possible.

“Irish Water is carrying out a review of the filter upgrade programme underway at the old plant to expedite its completion, bearing in mind current water supply headroom challenges.

In conclusion, Irish Water said: “The recent incident at Leixlip caused significant disruption to customers and is not acceptable to Irish Water. Our priority is to provide a safe secure drinking water supply and we accept responsibility for the incident. We will continue to notify the EPA and HSE of any reportable incidents as soon as we are aware of them.

“We are working with Fingal County Council to take all necessary steps to reduce the risk of an incident like this happening again. Irish Water is preparing a detailed written response to the issues raised by the EPA following their recent audit. At the time of the incident auto shut off had been installed at the new plant and was in

the process of being installed at the old plant. It should be reiterated that auto shut off is an option of last resort. A plant of this size cannot be reliant on the sole response of individuals. This incident highlights the fact that we must use all available technology to prevent a failure like

this happening in future. Under the current working arrangements this is not possible. Filter beds in the old plant are being upgraded. This work started in 2018 and will be completed next year. Any acceleration in this work must be balanced with maintaining sufficient water supply for the Greater Dublin Area.

Irish Water is fully committed to the Workplace Relations Commission process, initiated by the Minister and now underway, to replace the current Service Level Agreements with Local Authorities with arrangements which will provide Irish Water with the necessary full control of operations, accountability and capacity to manage risk and provide a single identity for customer facing services.

As that process is likely to take some time to complete, we believe that there are a number of operational issues that must be addressed in the interim, under the current SLA, to reduce risks that currently exist to the provision of safe and reliable water services to our customers.”