THE lack of a definite date for the removal of the precautionary boil notice attached to the Ennis water supply and concern over the delay in tackling excess lead in some of the old pipe network around the town has prompted a renewed call for an independent investigation into difficulties with water quality and quantity.
Councillor Johnny Flynn has repeated his call for a thorough independent review of the new permanent €7.5 million Ennis water treatment plant and the lack of decisive action to eliminate the risk of further lead breaches in the town’s supply.
Councillor Flynn, whose request for an independent public inquiry was previously refused by Environment Minister, John Gormley claimed there were new grounds justifying the need for an outside examination of the water supply, which supplies water for over 30,000 householders in Ennis and the surrounding areas.
In fact, the Fine Gael town and county councillor believes the terms of reference should be broadened to include other water treatment plants in Clare, which have experienced problems and those using similar treatment methods as the Ennis supply.
He said that it was “unbelieveable” that the interim water treatment plant still had to be retained as a back-up to the new permanent plant.
“Nobody seems to be getting a proper grasp of dealing with the Ennis Water Supply. The Ennis Water Supply is one of the examples of the part privatisation and public-private partnership favoured by Fianna Fáil-led Governments, which hasn’t worked to date.
“It is interesting that the new permanent plant still isn’t fully commissioned two years after independent water expert Dr Brignal visted the Drumcliffe plant on September 17, 2007 and published a report for the council where he voiced serious questions about the lack of pre-treatment process. We still don’t know if pre-treatment is needed for the Ennis water supply,” he said.
Councillor Brian Meaney has urged all local and national public representatives to exert political pressure on the council, contractor and the Department of the Environment to ensure the partial boil notice is lifted as quickly as possible.
The Green Party councillor admitted it was a source of grave concern that the partial boil notice could still be left in place before Christmas.
The permanent Ennis water treatment plant has already failed two vital commissioning tests in recent months, it emerged this week.
The second stage of commissioning for a 30-day period had to be abandoned on July 26 last, just four days after it had started, due to a mechanical problem.
It didn’t successfully pass the initial eight-day commissioning period and the throughput of the facility fell significantly on April 10, following a period of heavy rainfall.
Clare County Council officials declined to make any promises that the partial boil notice would be lifted before Christmas.
Guy Flouch, president of the Ennis Chamber, commented, “Our interpretation of the state of play is that we have sound reasons to expect a top quality water supply within the next two months. The business community and other residents of the town have long expressed their disappointment that this matter has been allowed to drag on for so long.
“However, rather than looking backwards, the Chamber now extends cautious congratulations to the county council for bringing us close to a resolution of this issue. Though we understand that no promise can be made at this stage, we are hopeful that the new water plant will be commissioned before Christmas.”
At this week’s meeting of Ennis West Electoral Area, councillors were told that the 30-day commissioning period for the water treatment plant is due to commence at the end of this month and that the plant is working and producing water of the required quality and quantity since testing recommenced, without the use of the interim treatment plant.
However, officials were reluctant to say if the county council would be in a position to approach the HSE to have the precautionary boil notice lifted by this December.
The water treatment plant will not be commissioned until it is successful in an eight-day commissioning period and a subsequent 30-day commissioning period.
At the meeting, Councillor Brian Meaney urged that all councillors in the Ennis West, Ennis East and town council areas be given a weekly update on the commissioning of the new plant and was informed that this could be accommodated.
He welcomed this, but accused the contractors, EPS Ltd, of “dragging their heels” on the commissioning. “This is putting pressure on us and businesses in the town,” he said.
Councillor Meaney asked what the current status of the treatment plant was and was informed by water services staff that the interim treatment plant is not being used at the moment to supply water to the town.
Councillor Meaney also asked if the contractor was being paid any monies towards the operation of the plant and was informed by Seán Ward, senior executive engineer, that they were not, as the plant was not in the operational phase.
“The contractor has been paid for work done in accordance with the contract but they have not been paid to produce water. They will not be paid until such a time as there is a satisfactory production of water in order for the operational phase to begin,” said Mr Ward.
He said that once they can move to the operational phase, the council will be in a position to approach the HSE to discuss removing the precautionary boil notice, although he added, “there is still some work to be done after that”.
When asked by Councillor Meaney if they would be in a position to remove the boil notice by Christmas, he was informed by Mr Ward that he would not promise that.