Water – Today’s Challenges and Opportunities

By: Greenvalet  05/12/2011
Keywords: Car, waste water, Water Usage

Changes in Irish Water Law

The Water Ser­vices Act 2007 rep­re­sents a major change in reg­u­la­tions con­cern­ing use of water in Ire­land, which will have pro­found impact on busi­ness and domes­tic water usage into the future. The pro­vi­sions of the Act dove­tail with the EU’s , which gives legal weight to the pol­luter pays prin­ci­ple. This prin­ci­ple requires that com­mer­cial and domes­tic water users not only pay for their water sup­ply, but for the cost of treat­ing the waste water that they pro­duce. The aim of the WFD is to min­imise the impact of human water use on the envi­ron­ment, by hav­ing the user pay for treat­ment of waste water.

While some aspects of the Act have been imple­mented, there are many pro­vi­sions that remain to be, so that its full impact has not been felt. Busi­nesses, not least, car wash­ing & valet­ing ser­vices, will be con­cerned with the laws that the Act intro­duces con­cern­ing wast­ing water, con­ser­va­tion of water, and water pol­lu­tion. Of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance for house­holds will be what the Act has to say about water rates and water metering.

Wast­ing Water

Under the Act any per­son wil­fully wast­ing or per­mit­ting water wastage com­mits a legal offence. In par­tic­u­lar, men­tion is made of wastage due to leak­ing or inad­e­quate pipes, valves, etc., or poor man­age­ment of oper­a­tional sys­tems. The water ser­vice provider – usu­ally a local author­ity – may direct (with force of law) that the owner or occu­pier of a premises upgrade their plumb­ing or works to a stan­dard deter­mined by the ser­vice provider to elim­i­nate leaks and waste of water, and/or to intro­duce more water-efficient work prac­tices. More­over, the water ser­vice provider may restrict the amount of water sup­plied to the premises, usu­ally with notice, but with imme­di­ate effect if con­cerned that human health, the envi­ron­ment or the integrity of the water pro­vi­sion sys­tem are threat­ened. Any finan­cial costs or losses due to the restric­tion or even cutting-off of a water sup­ply in these cir­cum­stances are borne by the owner or occu­pier in question.

Con­ser­va­tion of Water

The Min­is­ter for the Envi­ron­ment is given sig­nif­i­cant pow­ers to alter estab­lished pat­terns of water usage in order to con­serve water. S/he can not only issue direc­tives about water con­ser­va­tion, but can require the intro­duc­tion of spe­cific devices or sys­tems to reduce water use. The Min­is­ter can also require the intro­duc­tion of tech­nolo­gies or sys­tems to col­lect, treat (to a spec­i­fied stan­dard), and re-use (for pur­poses other than human con­sump­tion) “storm water” (i.e. rain­wa­ter) or “grey water” (water already used on a premises, but not in toi­lets or uri­nals, and not oth­er­wise seri­ously con­t­a­m­i­nated by use).

Already famil­iar is the pro­vi­sion that, if there is a water short­age or threat of water short­age, a water ser­vice provider may pro­hibit using a hosepipe to water a gar­den, parks or sports grounds, water or spray crops, or to wash a car or other vehi­cle. And, as many com­mer­cial car washes will have expe­ri­enced dur­ing and after the cold snaps of the last cou­ple of win­ters, water ser­vice providers can pro­hibit or restrict water use in com­mer­cial car wash­ing ser­vices dur­ing times of shortage.

Water Pol­lu­tion

A sig­nif­i­cant change intro­duced by the Act con­cerns the water run-off from trade premises. Prior to this Act, col­lec­tion and treat­ment of run-off water were typ­i­cally of con­cern only to highly reg­u­lated sec­tors such as agri­cul­ture, heavy indus­try, or the chem­i­cal indus­try. The Act now pro­vides that any dis­charge, by any premises, of trade efflu­ent or other mat­ter into a sewer owned or con­trolled by the water author­ity or any storm drain, will be an offence, unless it is done under licence. And such licences are granted sub­ject to the envi­ron­men­tal or human effects of such dis­charges, and can be refused or reviewed. This pro­vi­sion will have a direct and seri­ous impact on car wash­ing busi­nesses, which will have to col­lect and treat any runoff that is con­t­a­m­i­nated with toxic chemicals.

Con­se­quences for businesses

To recap, the Water Ser­vices Act 2007 will have sig­nif­i­cant impact on busi­nesses when fully imple­mented, espe­cially those which are tra­di­tion­ally heavy water-users. Busi­nesses will have to:

  • Cut out water wastage
  • Intro­duce water-efficient tech­nolo­gies and work practices
  • Col­lect, treat and (where pos­si­ble) estab­lish means of re-using run-off from their var­i­ous processes, and not allow run-off to enter sewer sys­tems or drains
  • Col­lect and, where appro­pri­ate, use storm water
  • Bear the costs of imple­ment­ing the above measures

Water Meter­ing

The Act also pro­vides for the intro­duc­tion of water meter­ing and water charges. Once intro­duced, water meters are manda­tory and the local author­ity can recoup the costs of sup­ply­ing and fit­ting the meters via a rental charge, though the Act allows that meters might be sup­plied free of charge. What peo­ple may not be aware of is that the Act also allows for meter­ing of domes­tic waste water. All the water from a house­hold that ends up enter­ing the drains or sew­ers can be metered and users can be charged accord­ingly. This is already the case in the UK, for instance, where the charge for waste water can be as high as the charge for a water sup­ply in the first place. The chal­lenge then for house­holds will be to

  • not to waste water
  • be water-efficient
  • re-use grey-water
  • col­lect and use rain­wa­ter (other than for human consumption)

Keywords: Car, waste water, Water Usage

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