The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) has reassured the National Federation of Group Water Schemes (NFGWS) that it will continue to support the GWS sector in dealing with the impacts of the ongoing energy crisis.
With rising prices and fears of supply shortages, energy is a topic that has been dominating discussions throughout the sector. The NFGWS is advising all group water schemes to place issues related to energy high on their agenda and to keep in close contact with local their NFGWS development officer should they have any issues over the winter period.
Group water schemes are reminded that a subsidy appeals process is available to GWSs that have a legitimate claim in relation to rising costs.
For those in DBO contracts, many GWSs have noticed their quarterly bills have increased substantially over the past 12 months due to inflation. GWSs, through the employer’s representative, continue to stress at liaison monitoring committee meetings that every effort should be made by DBO operators to operate treatment facilities as efficiently as possible.
The DHLGH is acutely aware of the rise in energy costs and is taking on its share of the burden through the operational subsidy. However, GWSs will still need to be mindful of the non-domestic volumetric proportion that it is required to cover. Schemes — both DBO and non-DBO —can do their part too through vigilant network management to tackle leakage quickly.
The Department has also introduced an interim measure whereby GWSs experiencing genuine cash flow issues with regard to advance DBO subsidy payments can apply to the relevant local authority to recoup the actual validated costs incurred during the quarter. Non-DBO GWSs will be equally supported should cash flow issues arise. Non-DBO GWSs or GWS with booster pumping arrangements are advised to shop around to avail of the best possible prices for electricity.
GWSs are being encouraged by the NFGWS to explore smart metering and maximising day & night metering plans that could bring about significant savings, particularly if the GWS is able to set its pumping schedule to work during the cheapest night-time rates. Reductions in Unaccounted-for Water (UFW) also have a significant impact on reducing energy consumption.
In light of rising costs across the board, GWSs may need to give serious consideration to raising charging rates for non-domestic users. NFGWS CEO, Barry Deane, said:
‘GWSs need to have realistic charges in place for non-domestic and excessive water usage that reflect of the increasing cost of production for the water that they are providing to members. GWS boards can easily calculate their cost of production but assistance is also available from your local development officer.'
The installation of renewable energy sources is another long-term measure that will help build resilience within individual group water schemes, and external funding sources can be explored to assist in this regard.
Notwithstanding the aforementioned financial planning and supports, some smaller GWSs may need to explore further options in regard to long-term sustainability.
Speaking at the recent Rural Water Services Conference, Barry also urged GWSs to make sure that they are prepared for any possible power outages in the coming months. In particular, it would be advisable that GWSs have their facilities ready, should the use of a mobile generator be required:
‘If you don’t have adequate storage and/or already have access to a generator, then is your GWS site generator-ready? At the very least, GWSs should ensure that they will be able to utilise a generator should the need occur.’
Aside from energy issues, the sector must also be prepared for other challenges that may arise over the winter. GWSs are advised to have contingency plans in place to deal with any Covid-19/flu-related absences. Unless otherwise directed by government guidelines, a common sense approach should be taken to the organisation of indoor meetings, with the online option still a viable alternative if needed.
The NFGWS is contacting all affiliated group water schemes with guidance on winter preparation, and extensive advice is available at nfgws.ie/be-weather-ready for how GWSs and their members can mitigate the possibility of burst pipes etc. caused by cold weather.
Engage with members
The responsibility is on each individual GWS to raise awareness among its members of what the local community needs to do to protect its water supply and avoid unexpected bills. This year especially, it is worth remembering that water conservation efforts by members can have an impact on energy costs for the group water scheme. It can also help to reduce the impact of climate change.
This article originally featured in the most recent edition of the Rural Water News magazine. To read the full edition and to sign up to our magazine mailing list, click here.