Your experiences of the water crisis?

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.”

So let us have your views, experience and/or stories below?

  • dwatch

    BBC news:

    NI Assembly Finance minister Sammy Wilson and Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy cannot be blamed for the following:

    BBC News:
    Yorkshire Water has brought in extra staff to deal with an “unprecedented” number of calls about frozen and burst pipes. The firm said it was currently receiving up to 8,000 calls a day. On 22 December it took 10,000 calls.

    BBC news:
    The cold weather has resulted in a huge rise in the number of burst pipes around Wales. Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water logged 5,000 calls on Boxing Day, compared with 50 on a typical busy day, and about 185 during the cold snap.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks @dwatch. Just to aid that perspective, this from Dŵr Cymru:

    “Our biggest incident is in south Carmarthenshire. There are about 3,000 properties without water. We are doing everything we can to get supplies restored. We’ve had a significant failure at a pumping station.”

    Note the accuracy of the reporting, the localised nature of the problem and the precise diagnosis.

    The rush to blame is certainly premature at this stage. Much of the difficulty I imagine is inherited from the direct rule days.

    We will need to see what’s left when the smoke clears in the new year, but if you look at patterns of problems in the Republic, Dublin is worst hit and it is also happens to be one of the places where the system is oldest.

    That said, you have to ask why NI Water is being asked to endure savage departmental cuts at a time when it’s most pressing need is long overdue investment in its infrastructure.

  • Frame

    The BBC claims to be a public service broadcaster and it had about half a journalist covering an enormous story over the holidays.

    It simply indulged in whining rather than relaying details of why when and where areas had no supply from ‘Northern Ireland’ (two words Minister Murphy won’t say, even in crisis) Water.

    Nolan could not be brought out to meet his public and so we had the ‘Best of Nolan in 2010′ in his live place,

    BBC NI could have got a plumber and heating engineer on to answer listeners’ questions instead of the published schedule.

    But no. Inflexibility rules, and the jobsworths continued their well-paid holidays.

    Surprisingly the Today programme did ask the killer question of Liam Mulholland, three times:-

    ‘Knowing the freeze was unprecedented what did you do over Christmas to prepare for the thaw problems?’

    Question evaded thrice and no answer offered i.e. the witless ones did nothing special.

  • They do things differently elsewhere.

    “Sydney Water is committed to providing customers with a minimum level of water pressure. Pressure gauges are used to monitor water pressure throughout our 20,824 kilometre network of water mains. To maintain the reliability of the water supply, we sometimes need to replace old water pressure gauges in various locations across Sydney, Illawarra and the Blue Mountains.

    These new gauges relay information back to a central recording system via an electronic transmitter, allowing us to remotely monitor daily changes in water pressure. If the water pressure in an area falls near to or below the minimum required level, we can remotely adjust the water system to ensure minimum water pressure is maintained.

    Sydney Water works in partnership with Networks Alliance, comprising Bovis Lend Lease, CLM Excavations and Veolia Water Network Services to install these monitoring units.

    Sydney Water also has a water saving program that reduces water pressure in targeted suburbs.” (http://www.sydneywater.com.au/majorprojects/WaterProgram/Pressuring.cfm)

  • And to see how effective monitoring can even be done on a small scale, see http://www.waterworld.com/index/display/article-display/articles/waterworld/drinking-water/treatment/water-level-monitoring-key-to-fresh-water-supply.html

    They describe their old system, that may perhaps be familiar to people here:

    “Prior to placing transducers in the wells, we took manual well readings. This type of monitoring proved to be time consuming, costly and inaccurate. Well crock access points would often break while being accessed due to freezing temperatures during the winter months, and data collected during manual readings was not always a good representation of true static or pumping level, since well levels could be in the process of lowering or recovering when the manual reading was taken.”

    Mind you, I am not sure that NI Water was even taking enough manual readings, since the directors have been focussed on accounting for money rather than accounting for water.

  • drouth

    From the NIW Webpage:
    “NI Water is aware of bogus information being given to customers at their door steps concerning water supply times.

    All planned times for when supplies will be switched off, for a period of time, and then restored are indicated on the major incident page.”

    Er… Is this the same “bogus information” which is being communicated on the same website regarding switch on times? My location was due to have water on at 10 pm… now nearly 11.30 and no sign of a gurgle in the pipes.
    Is this the same “bogus information” which comes within seconds of sending an email to the waterline id, which includes yesterdays status, never to be followed up by a real reply?

    Somehow, the doorstep fraudsters seem preferable, and at least human.

  • Drumlins Rock

    “This current difficulty arising from problems in our water system is relative. No one is going to lose life as a result. End hysteria! ”

    The Mallie has spoken, end of discussion 🙂

  • Mick Fealty

    @Dave

    That’s a particularly useful insight! Thanks!!

    On the issue of money, that obsession seems to have derived from the Department, or maybe the CEO seeking to pleases Minster who was unhappy with the trajectory towards privatisation.

    One of the reasons I suspect the CEO wanted to be shot of the old Board is that they opposed the speed and the depth of his proposed cuts in an organisation with large industrial base that desparately needed (needs) modernising.

    I still don’t understand why these cut

  • CiaranMc

    Drumlin Rock, you miss the point. This incident indicates a major failure in the management and supply of a vital resource in a 1st world country. No one might yet have died but there is a significant risk of serious helth prolems as a result of people being without water for over a week. The financial implications have yet to be determined, not just for NI Water, but for the thousands of businesses whose operations have been disrupted, all on the back of the heavy snows and deep budget cuts. The full impact of this has yet to be revealed.

    It’s not hysteria, it’s justified criticism and questioning of our public representatives and our public bodies.

    Discussion continues…… :o)

  • Rory Carr

    Although I cannot speak directly of the difficulties that are being experienced in Ireland (no water problems here!) it is my experience that as soon as any crisis is resolved the discomforts are almost immediately forgotten once the sense of relief has given way to the expectation and acceptance of normal routine.

    This is true of drought, adverse weather conditions, upset travel arrangements, winter colds and flu’ and even Christmas ‘never again’ hangovers. So if people are anticipating a political fallout from this I suspect that they will be disappointed as, when it comes time for the electorate to make a choice, water shortage will be the very last thing on their minds.

    I suppose that is one reason why we do not have elections in the middle of disaster-prone winter.

  • Watch the Shinners try to shift attention back on to the Housing Exec…

  • soln

    Yeah Siberian winter for two years running & guess what the water pipes in Ireland not up to it shock horror. Some people obviously getting wet over others misfortune…. Hi Mick don’t be holding back on Maggies dept from mid Jan til post election in the interests of fairness & all that!!

  • backstage

    Politicians laying into officials…and rightly so. But let us not forget that those same politicians led the opposition to water charges which, I (possibly naively) assume, would have led to more money being available for the upgrading of the water infrastructure. Their hands are wet too!

  • The next question, after this one, is how to investigate the problem.

    It is all very well calling for investigations by NI Water, the regulator or Stormong committees – but what sort of investigation do we need?

    I think we need a scientific investigation, like an accident investigation or CSI (but slower) to get to the hard facts, not just asking people to answer questions. So I am off to write CSI Belfast: the case of the missing water, then find somewhere to post it.

  • Rory Carr

    I’ve noticed that we have had no commenters from the USA on this burning issue. Hygiene concerns I presume.

  • dwatch

    Had all the pipes burst by an earthquake the shinners and Murphy’s head would still be be asked for by the UUP & SDLP. Funny the DUP have stayed quiet during this crisis.
    Anyway if this forcast in The Mail is correct the worst is to come. ‘Brace yourselves for a ‘mini ice age’: This winter set to be coldest in 300 YEARS’

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1342515/UK-snow-big-freeze-weather-means-winter-set-coldest-300-YEARS.html#ixzz19cGoKR6P

  • slappymcgroundout

    “I’ve noticed that we have had no commenters from the USA on this burning issue. Hygiene concerns I presume.”

    What’s to say, I live in the tropics. It’s now 78 deg F, with the tradewind at 8 mph out of the NE. The expected high is 81 deg F, with a low of 69. Expected to be the same tomorrow and over the weekend looks like a 78-79 high with a low of 70-71. Should be partly cloudy until a Sunday with no clouds.

    Lastly, the story of some others out there in the cold and without plumbing, enjoy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCB58DUDJuM

    So, the good news is that at least you aren’t being shot at.

  • The Raven

    “Nolan could not be brought out to meet his public and so we had the ‘Best of Nolan in 2010′ in his live place”

    Yes, well, we had that gobshite today. He actually used the phrase “…but Minister, the people *I* represent…” I shall say nothing more, other than if this…*thing* is what the general population feels represents us, then we’re in more trouble than we initially thought.

    Nice interview, however, at the other end of the day by Conor Bradford with Alan Strong, a senior lecturer in Environmental Infrastructure. More sense came out of him in seven minutes than all the comments made on any media beforehand. He rightly wouldn’t be drawn on the communication issue, but over the interview firmly suggested that underinvestment is where the problem lies.

    My worst experience of this crisis? The dark shadow of Paterson, gently prodding us towards charges – or should I say, further charges, as we all already pay towards the resource. Let us give up this battle of avoiding charges, and allocating blame, and instead fight the front which leads towards privatisation.

  • I got off fairly lightly compared with some others – just three days without supply and a leak that I was able to repair myself.

    It took two days to get through on the phone and the recipient was obviously devoid of local knowledge; centralisation of communications may bring about economies of scale but it can be a false economy.

    When I blogged those stories earlier this year about the River Bush I discovered that the NIEA out-of-hours service was based in Sheffield:

    “Are out of hours reporting arrangements for possible pollution incidents satisfactory? The member of staff in Sheffield who took by call on May 23 was unable to locate Bushmills on whatever system was being used and had to resort to Google maps!!”

    *Hat Tip*

    Many are obviously concerned about the abysmal state of NI Water management but lets not forget about the threat to the effectiveness of NI Coastguard co-ordination

  • William Markfelt

    ‘we all already pay towards the resource. ‘

    Did I hear someone say about £250 per household? I’m guessing that if water rates are introduced the household rate will immediately fall by an equivalent amount. Won’t it?

  • Dramatic surge in infrastructure investment in England and Wales circa 1990 didn’t take place in Northern Ireland until much later.

  • The Raven

    William, I believe – happy to be corrected – it’s around £125-150 of your annual domestic rates bill. You are correct in surmising that if one comes in as a separate charge, it should happen that the other falls.

    But unless people are aware, and lobby accordingly, you can be sure that saving will disappear…

  • joeCanuck

    People are indeed already paying for water through their rates. But the lack of investment money for infrastructure upgrades must mean that they are not paying enough. And, as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.

  • joeCanuck

    And, before anyone asks, in my municipality our water is metered and billed monthly.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m guessing that if water rates are introduced the household rate will immediately fall by an equivalent amount. Won’t it?

    Not now. If this is introduced it won’t be a revenue-neutral measure.