In terms of burst water pipes, the focus just now is on NI Water, just as earlier in the middle of the freeze it was on the NI Housing Executive, who now seem roughly to have gotten things back in hand.
But the scale of the problems facing the two organisations are vastly different. Unlike the Republic where it is the responsibility of 88 separate local authorities, NI Water is solely responsible for the supply of water to homes and industry; and, as you can tell from their crisis management webpage, the mess is everywhere.
There are two sets of operational difficulties to be sorted. The short term emergency stuff which entails the gathering of information and distributing it to customers and the provision of phased services. Then there is the more intractable problem of working out what on earth has gone wrong. Not least what pipes need fixing and where.
The centralised nature of the information gathering process (in Belfast where call centre officials seem unfamiliar with place up country) the excessive amount of surface water from the hard thaw is not helping with any of that detective work.
The political recriminations have been in train for some time, mostly between the SDLP (who have responsibility for the Housing Executive) and Sinn Fein (whose Minister at DRD has control of NI Water) with the Deputy First Minister now pointing his guns directly at NI Water itself.
But the latest is the DUP’s Edwin Poots, who has said, ‘Everybody knew that whenever the thaw came that there was going to be big problems with water.’ Well, if that’s true then you’d have to ask why is the Executive only meeting tomorrow and not before the crisis kicked off.
If Dublin’s experience is anything to go by (and their restrictions began before Christmas), this is not going to go away anytime soon:
Almost 625 million litres of water were used or lost through leaks in Dublin yesterday, 70 million litres more than could be produced by the water treatment plants. The biggest draw on the system ever experienced in Dublin was on January 11th last, when demand hit 634 million litres.
Water restrictions had to remain until demand was brought under control, said Brian Smyth, a senior engineer with the city council. “The restrictions will only lessen when we find and fix the leaks. I can’t see an end to the restrictions at the moment.”
While the loss of water in the system was attributed almost entirely to leaks and not wastage by consumers, better water management would shorten the period for which restrictions need to be in place, Mr Smyth said. “If everyone flushed the toilet one time less a day it would save between 10 and 11 million litres of water a day.”
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Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty