Until the 1950s piped water supplies were virtually unheard of outside of Ireland’s towns and cities. Rural communities relied on buckets and barrels for their daily water needs, drawing supplies from wells, rivers or lakes - a painstaking and laborious chore.
In 1955 a committee comprising representatives of the Department of Local Government and the Local Sanitary Authorities carried out a comprehensive assessment of water provision and sewerage services throughout the State. This Committee identified the non-availability of piped water in rural areas as a major unresolved issue and their conclusions formed the basis of a three-pronged strategy launched in 1959:-
- the provision of regional schemes by the sanitary authorities.
- the provision of group schemes by local communities where
reliable local sources were available.
- the provision of piped water by individual householders where neither of the other approaches were feasible.
The benefits of the group approach were quickly recognised by the Department and every effort was made to encourage its widespread adoption. Under the group scheme approach, a number of applicants pooled their grants and provided voluntary labour. Local authorities encouraged group development by:
- providing supplies for groups from their own sources.
- taking potential group development into consideration when developing public schemes.
- encouraging the infill of regional schemes by private groups.
Group schemes flourished in the 1960s/1970s, often through the efforts of local co-operatives and farm organisations and, in time, the sector was providing drinking water to some 25% of the rural population. From the census of 2002, some 45,000 households indicated that they received their drinking water supply from a privately-sourced GWS. The actual figure is significantly higher. Schemes including upwards of 50,000 households are affiliated with the NFGWS and unaffiliated schemes may account for between 10,000 and 15,000 further households. Some 120,000 households are currently served by publicly-sourced GWS.