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Councils fear cost of water repairs

Local authorities have been ‘‘reluctant’’ to start costly water improvement projects due to constraints on their finances, ac cording to an internal government memo. Cork County Council went as far as to say that government approval for a multimillion euro water project amounted to inviting the council to commit ‘‘financial suicide’’, as it would have to take a major risk in the initial borrowing. The council’s comments were contained in a submission to the Department of the Environment, which has prepared a memo on the local authorities’ positions. Local authorities are this weekend keeping possible water restrictions under review, du e to a severe weather warning and the reopening of schools tomorrow, which will put further pressure on supply. The memo stated that local authorities had been reluctant to draw down multimillion euro funding grants allocated by central government for water services as they had to borrow a portion of the initial capital costs, particularly of non-domestic water projects. ‘‘The fact that local authorities have to meet the up-front capital costs relating to the non-domestic sector portion of the water services schemes and contracts, against a background of worsened financial positions, has meant a reluctance on the part of local authorities to commence new works,” said the memo, which was prepared for Geraldine Tallon, secretary general at the Department of the Environment. The memo also stated that,’ ‘in light of GBG [general government borrowing] restrictions, there has been some hesitancy by authorities in entering into such future commitments’’. It went on to say that the Department had identified ‘‘delays at project level’’ as a result. ‘‘The department has been monitoring this situation closely in consultation with the CCMA (City and County Managers Association) in order to get projects progressing,” it added, and said it hoped to see more projects commence in 2011. The department has provided letters to several local authorities – which the councils could use when attempting to secure initial borrowing – in which there is a clear commitment that certain projects are on the department’s priority funding list, according to the memo. The briefing document went on to say that many councils around the country had been ‘‘slow in putting effective water conservation measures in place’’, due to conflicting priorities between improving the supply of water and the quality of the supply. However,’ ‘almost all councils’’ now had an active waterloss management system to tackle levels of water lost in normal water transmission, according to the memo, which was obtained under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. The department of the environment has earmarked €320 million for water mains rehabilitation projects, although councils will be allowed to dip into this fund to repair mains that were damaged during the recent bad weather.

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