Avoidable water loss is costly for the environment, the water supplier and for members of group water schemes. Implementing and sustaining a water conservation plan is, therefore, a major consideration for the GWS sector. Yet, until relatively recent times, only a small minority of group schemes were universally metered and the concept of district metering was virtually unheard of.
With the commencement of the DBO bundling strategy, the need for a metering strategy was manifest. Many schemes were already exceeding the 25-year design demand of their treatment plants even before they opened. Moreover, the introduction of a volumetric charge for treated water delivery into distribution networks was a wake-up call for the sector.
A pilot project in 2003 on two County Cavan schemes (Annagh and Clifferna) demonstrated the significant unaccounted for water (UFW) reductions that could be achieved, while a consultancy study on schemes in Mayo revealed that at least half of all water losses were on the consumer side of the water connection.
Circular L11-2004, issued by the Department in November 2004, focused on the issue of UFW in relation to the ongoing investment programme in DBO treatment plant upgrades. This pointed out that the implementation of an active leak detection and eradication programme would be fundamental to the success of DBO schemes, particularly those with high UFW. It further argued that success in addressing the issue of UFW would be contingent on the availability of stop boxes and stop valves in order to isolate service connections and to determine the integrity of the network. Universal metering was introduced as a condition of subsidy on DBO projects and capital grants were introduced for DBO upgrading works, including:
- Critical mains replacement.
- Provision of Pressure Reducing Valves (as high operating pressures were contributing to water losses in some schemes).
- Provision of stop boxes and metering of service connections.
In July 2008 the NFGWS made a submission to the National Rural Water Services Committee making a strong case for the extension of supports towards universal metering across all GWS supplies. In addition, the Federation promoted the necessity for auditing of water demand on GWS networks and the need for the establishment of district metered areas (DMAs) in pipe, with bulk meters (and especially telemetric bulk meters) to record flow into each DMA. A study (under the auspices of the NRWMC and conducted by Dublin Institute of Technology) aimed at assessing the feasibility of rainwater harvesting to displace potable water use in homes and farms was also facilitated by NFGWS. The study report was published in 2006.
Meters are only a tool and, like any tool, their value depends on how they are used. Training in the use of meters has been a key consideration for the NFGWS, working in conjunction with the then training agency (FÁS) and the Local Authority Water Services Training Group. 2005 saw the finalisation and pilot launching of a leak detection, water conservation and line maintenance courses in several regional training centres. These informed the development of a full course training booklet by consultants on behalf of the LAWSTG (and with substantial input from the NFGWS).
In advance of the release of this resource, the NFGWS launched its own Reducing Daily Water Demand course (2008). Aimed at assisting schemes in quantifying what their daily water demand should be, this course included the provision of a ready Excel calculator for farmers. An information leaflet on farm water use was also developed and this fed into the development by the Irish Farmers Association of its Smart Farming guidance leaflet on water use.
During the extremely cold winter of 2009, a ‘Winter ready’ information leaflet was provided to schemes for distribution to their members.
In recent times, the case for universal metering on all group water schemes has been accepted by the Department and under Measure 2 of the Rural Water Programme 2019-2021, capital supports are available to assist with upgrade works designed to enhance water conservation in the sector.
As the focus shifts increasingly towards GPS identification and mapping of all network infrastructure (using freely available digital tools), the lead given by the GWS sector in relation to water conservation is now widely recognised and with increased water awareness amongst GWS members, it is expected that UFW levels will continue to decrease in the years ahead.