The Community Water Development Fund 2020 was launched at the…
EPA Research 364: Learning from Group Water Schemes: Community Infrastructures for Sustainable Development
The EPA has published the EPA Research 364: Learning from Group Water Schemes: Community Infrastructures for Sustainable Development. The quality of many of Ireland’s freshwater sources is declining, impacting in turn the quality and affordability of Ireland’s drinking water services. This project examines the history and development of the group water scheme sector, identifying how and why it has been successful in providing essential water services to rural Ireland, and providing several key findings that have implications beyond the rural water sector.
EPA-funded research generates a scientific base to support environmental protection. Projects are carefully targeted to deliver on three key areas: Identifying pressures; Informing policy; and Developing solutions
The quality of many of Ireland’s freshwater sources is declining. The decline in water quality impacts in turn the quality and affordability of Ireland’s drinking water services. Ireland’s water infrastructure requires significant upgrades and extensions if it is to continue to provide safe, affordable drinking water to the population and avoid direct and indirect financial penalties from the European Commission. The recent reform of the public Irish water sector has sought to address this through the establishment of a single, national water utility and the introduction of domestic metering and charges. However, in the face of public opposition, water charges have been suspended, and the future challenges for Irish Water are significant.
In the context of national and international debates around the future of water resources and provisioning, the experience and performance of Ireland’s group water scheme sector provides valuable insights and lessons. Over the past 20 years, the group water scheme sector has transformed itself by successfully addressing problems with water quality and leakage, in many respects outperforming the public sector, as well as being active in the protection of freshwater sources. This project examines the history and development of the group water scheme sector, identifying how and why it has been successful in providing essential water services to rural Ireland.
This project has several key findings that have implications beyond the rural water sector.
First, in an era of infrastructural failure, when innovation is usually taken to mean disruption, group water schemes demonstrate the value of often-overlooked but essential work required to sustain environments, infrastructure, and community.
Second, group water schemes are adaptive, responsive and community-focused institutions, able to tailor standardised regulations and technologies to local needs, environments and social differences.
Third, through its focus on three source water protection projects in Counties Mayo, Monaghan and Roscommon, the project demonstrates that local expertise is both extensive and valuable in understanding the connections between local environmental change, national and European policy, land use change, farming practice and economic pressures. This expertise needs to be better combined with established scientific methods to generate more rigorous and critical insights into water-related issues.
Finally, the project shows that source water protection is a complex and contentious area of water governance as the protection of common goods can come into conflict with private interests relating to land use and farming.