9 September 2010 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.

The lament of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner has taken on unsettling contemporary relevance with the awakening realisation among its consumers and its guardians that, despite the seeming copiousness of the resource, potable water is in fact a precious and far from inexhaustible commodity. Ensuring that it is available in adequate quantity, and to a quality in compliance with ever more exacting statutory requirements, is a demanding and expensive task for the local authorities and private group schemes charged with these responsibilities.

Worthy of commendation, then, is the success achieved thus far by the water conservation element of Monaghan Co Council’s Water Services Investment Programme. Director of Services David Fallon reported at Monday’s meeting of the authority that measures introduced had managed to reduce the level of unaccounted-for water in public supplies from around 50% to 32%. That a third of expensively resourced and treated water is going to waste because of leakages in the system is a far from acceptable state of affairs, but it a considerable improvement on the extraordinary loss of half the supply which compelled the introduction of the conservation programme. If the Co Council succeed in bringing the amount of water lost to its target figure of around 17-18% it will have achieved an important efficiency and gone a good way to remedying what has long been an intolerable state of affairs.

The presence in Co Monaghan of a large number of excellent group schemes suggests that there is quite a developed consciousness at rural community level of water as a precious resource. But as individuals we are perhaps not always as attentive as we should be to the need to use water with circumspection. Proposals on the political horizon to implement a scheme of domestic water metering might concentrate our minds a little more in this respect, but pecuniary-motivated compulsion has its limits.

Experienced South Monaghan public representative Aidan Murray spoke at Monday’s meeting of the need for the public to embrace the concept of recycling waste for the right reasons – out of high-minded environmental concerns rather than merely to avail of a cheap option. Colr Murray’s recommendation could apply equally to the use – and abuse – of domestic water supplies. It is easy to be complacent and cavalier in our attitudes to a resource whose seeming plenitude has long encouraged us to take it for granted.

A great deal of the pollution of waterways also arises from careless disregard rather than calculated animus.

Lifelong learning is a recommended habit in the current times. Where responsible water usage is concerned, we could all stand a little education. Monaghan Co Council could usefully, we feel, elaborate on its environmental awareness campaigning to bring the water conservation message home more forcefully to the county’s consumers. And the notable success of its current programme to improve what in some cases had become archaic and inefficient water infrastructure in the county would merit being more vigorously publicised.

Perhaps then we would all be more tolerant of the occasional disruptions and inconveniences caused when leakage control works and other improvements to the public water supply are being effected.

And, better informed, we could improve our own individual efforts to cherish the water that flows from our taps for the precious resource it has become.

Full report in the Northern Standard


The inability of representatives of the Office of Public Works to tell Monaghan Co Council on Monday whether it was the OPW or the local authority who had responsibility for sorting out the flooding problems linked to the Shambles River tributary of the Blackwater that flows through Monaghan Town was not an auspicious moment in the history of engagement between national statutory agencies and the representatives of local government.

Both sides appeared at cross-purposes when it came to the motivation for the OPW’s visit. Their representatives delivered an interesting and comprehensive outline of the enhanced role conferred upon the OPW by the 2007 Brussels Flood Assessment and Management Directive and the implications new approaches to dealing with flooding problems in Ireland would have for local authorities and the public at large. But such a lecture was not what the councillors were after.

Given the widespread problems caused by flooding in the county at the end of last year, they wanted a more localised and practical account of what the OPW could do about areas of specific grievance. Local representatives with constituents’ representations to address were consequently disappointed and dissatisfied. And while it is understandable that the OPW men weren’t equipped to respond to every specific, it appeared a reasonable expectation on the councillors’ part that a body now declaring itself the competent authority to deal with flooding issues would at least know at whose door the responsibility for the Shambles River lay.

It was also unfortunate that the tenor as well as the content of the visitors’ comments created the inference that Monaghan Co Council and its executive had been either timid or ill-prepared in the applications they had submitted for the Minor Works Scheme available to carry out remedial work on particular flood-related problems in the county. The slight may not have been intended but it understandably stung, and both Co Manager Declan Nelson and Director of Services David Fallon were right to defend themselves and their staff from any imputation that they had been lax in endeavouring to maximise the funding available in this regard.

There is no doubt that when the major flooding problems that beset the country last winter were being addressed by the machinery of government, priority was given to those parts of the country where devastation was most severe. The suffering of Co Monaghan people, although certainly not negligible, was adjudicated to be on a lesser scale than that experienced in other parts of the country, and the available resources were disbursed accordingly.

The problem that appeared to underlay Monday’s engagement was that the reform of the statutory responsibilities for the address of flooding in this country, and the OPW’s role in this process, is still a work in progress. There is a very complicated interweave of agencies with responsibility for Irish waterways, and it will take some time for the new regime heralded by the aforementioned Brussels Directive and the introduction of new River Basin Management Plan structures to solidify into an efficiently functioning mechanism.

The OPW’s place in all this will undoubtedly by a major and guiding one – one only has to glance at the unprecedented powers of monitoring, access and punitive sanctions that have been conferred upon them to recognise that. But the governing entity still appears to be embryonic – and the other agencies who have traditionally discharged functions in this area, including local authorities such as Monaghan Co Council, need to be extended the courtesy of detailed engagement in order for the changes in the landscape to be clarified.

We understand that such a consultation process is underway at meetings taking place this week. In that context the OPW’s visit to Monaghan Co Council on Monday to engage with elected members at a public forum was perhaps premature.

But it at least ended on a positive note, with the OPW representatives promising clarity before the end of the week on the vexed question of who is responsible for the Monaghan river tributary that has contributed to some very severe and disruptive flooding situations in the county capital for a long period of time. If this initial engagement results in a sorting out of the Shambles, then the relationship between Monaghan Co Council and the OPW should go on to be a productive one.


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