Some Guidelines on the Proper Placement of Water Meters

Sometimes you’re there, bemoaning the fact that you don’t have enough hours in the week to write about all the things you want to, and then someone else expresses your feelings perfectly in one succinct sentence.

If you’re curious as to how a country that receives over 200 days of rainfall a year has reached the stage of having to pay for that rainfall per litre, Oireachtas Retort have a brilliant, scathing summary of the situation and its likely fallout.

Edited to add:
A lot of people in the comments here are showing some very different perspectives on this. I feel a bit embarrassed, as it’s pretty clear I was impulsively posting fairly strongly on something I don’t actually know terribly much about. I’m gonna take a step back, do some more reading and talking on this one, and STFU with the big public statements until I know enough to have a perspective with a bit of real nuance to it.

And thank you, commenters, for calling me on it.

Some Guidelines on the Proper Placement of Water Meters

12 thoughts on “Some Guidelines on the Proper Placement of Water Meters

  1. 1

    Its about bloody time that those of us on public mains systems in Ireland started paying for the water resources we use on a price-per-volume basis. Its also about bloody time we had politicians and a government who could introduce a simple, fair, rational system that ring-fenced all water charges for proper water resource and landscape management, instead of wasting vast quantities of funds to create a massively screwed up and irrational system that lacks transparency and frustrates most of the country in the process. The idea that we should not have to pay for the water we use because “it rains a lot” is idiotic nonsense. So is the idea that we should continue to accept blatant cronyism and lack of transparency in how our services are run and paid for.

    1. 1.1

      Actually, we shouldn’t have to pay for the water we use for the same reason that we shouldn’t have to pay for the healthcare we access: because things necessary to sustain human life are basic human rights.

      1. As am American, this common sense is refreshing to hear. Having gotten an assload of American right-wingers attack me in pack formation over my meek support of the new, weak-tea health care law (I favored a single-payer system), it’s nice to hear someone express the view that healthcare and fresh, clean water are basic human rights.

  2. 2

    Sorry, but that’s a false assumption which sounds nice but doesn’t bear scrutiny.

    A diverse diet is essential to sustain human life, yet we are expected to pay for the food we eat. I don’t hear anyone in Ireland arguing that everyone should be given free food handouts. Clothing and shelter are also basic rights, recognised in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet I don’t see or hear these anti-water charge protesters demanding we all get free clothes and free housing. The UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, supported by every UN member state, recognises a right to sufficient clean water for washing, cooking and drinking “at affordable cost” (and every household in Ireland attached to a public mains will get a free allowance to meet the basic minimum needs), which is written into international law. But there is no human right to having far more treated water than you need constantly available from the tap 24 hours a day.

    It is a societal choice to have potable water available to us on tap at all times. We expect that this water be safe to drink and available to use however we please, all day every day. That demands huge amounts of resources to provide – not just the water, but also massive amounts of electricity, chemicals and man power, for extraction, sampling, monitoring, filtration, treatment, and delivery. The way we extract and treat it causes a significant environmental burden. That all needs to be paid for, and at present there is a shortfall of over 1 billion euro in the country’s water supply budget. Add to this the fact that we also chose to live in, and contribute to, a system which results in the over exploitation and contamination of our environment to the extent that sufficient quantities of unpolluted water are impossible to find in Ireland. The result is that water treatment is even more costly – we’re not just providing sparkly tap water from rain, we’re having to remove sewage, animal waste and chemical contamination which we allow to flow into the aquatic landscape.

    We are all free to dig our own wells and develop our own groundwater resources for our own use – the Irish government will give you a nice big grant to do it, and you then do not have to pay water charges. But the groundwater you find in most of the country s not safe to drink, because of those many other societal choices. So well users usually have to pay anyway for their own treatment system.

    Also, most of our uses of water ultimately result in the production of sewage, and that also needs treatment, with even more energy and chemicals and man power. This also needs to be paid for, and the sorry fact is that we have been really crap at it in Ireland (hence the dirty groundwater and lack of drinkable river and lake water). There is no universal human right to have your sewage cleaned – but we need it and expect it, and we should be expected to help pay for it somehow.

    In Ireland we have crumbling water infrastructure, an aquatic environment that’s heavily degraded and unhealthy, and too many towns and cities – including my own home area of Roscommon – that constantly get “boil water” notices because of the pollution level. Our existing system is not up to the task. If the public expects that all of this be remedied so we can continue to have as much water as we want – more than what we need – we have to pay for it.

    If you are on a water meter, your basic human right is not affected. You will still get free water sufficient for your basic needs. I have no problem with a system which guarantees me a free daily allowance to meet my requirements, and then asks me to pay for the excess I use. I do, however, have a problem with the current management plan, which is shambolic, wasteful, secretive and has no strategy to help protect and restore our natural water resources.

  3. 3

    p.s. I’m sorry for the use of the gendered phrase “man power” – use of an old phrase and a habit I need to break. I should have said “working hours” or something similar.

  4. 4

    I assume all three like the idea of having clean, safe, filtered and chlorinated, pressurized, and tested water available at the turn of a tap. Do they assume this is all provided for free? Without meters there is little incentive to carry out basic plumbing repairs. The loo running all the time because a simple and cheap part hasn’t been replaced can chew through almost a thousand gallons a day.

    Sure … right now they have lots of water. But don’t for a second make the all too common mistake of assuming the supply is infinite, and everlasting.

    1. 4.1

      Indeed. Many people seem to think that lots of rain means there is lots of drinking water, when in fact the amount of clean disinfected water coming from a household tap is not much related to the amount of rainfall. Fresh, readily available treated drinking water is a finite resource. The more we abuse it through wastage, and the more we impact on the environment through pollution and unsustainable development, the more limited the resource becomes and the greater the strain on the supply. Add to that the fact that our current rates of water use and abuse in Ireland add to our unsustainable demands on energy resources, and its clear that whilst we can claim water as a basic human right, that is a very different thing from demanding that we a right to continue to enjoy – at no cost to us whatsoever – constant and unlimited access to tap water in a manner that places a huge burden on society. A right to access water is also very different from demanding that a government should provide it to us all day every day for free and cosset us from the wider costs of our own choices.

  5. 5

    It’s not the water you use that is the problem in Ireland, it’s the filtered, disease-free, potable water you waste. That water IS a limited resource, limited by the capacity of the processing plant, the distribution system, and the willingness of people to fund it.

    There are ways to provide for the needs without giving a free ride to the people who can’t be arsed to install a 50p washer or adjust a leaking toilet. Why should they get to send thousands of gallons of water straight into the sewers (where it will cost more money to treat) instead of using it for drinking, cooking and bathing?

    A billing scale that has a very low cost for the first few gallons per day, rising rapidly after the quantity needed for basic life support, is easy to set up.

  6. 6

    Most expensive thing a local authority can supply is clean water and proper waste treatment system. In other words I’ve no problem paying for safe dependable supply of drinking water.
    Think how silly it is that during the celtic tiger years we never mandated rainwater capture as a planning regulation. so that all new estates would supply a rain water source for flushing toilets.
    Problem is we set up the water board in the usual manner of Irish semi states, over staffed in all the wrong places and with very little over sight and corrective procedures. HSE all over again.
    It’s interesting that people who used to pay water charges don’t have as much of an issue compared to Dublin people who managed to block the charges the last time, and who think leaving a tap running will stop it pipes freezing during a cold spell

  7. 7

    I promise I’m not trying to pile on here, seeing as how you’ve put a caveat on the OP.

    I live in rural Australia so my perspective on fresh water is a bit different. We’re not connected to mains water, all of our fresh water comes from rain collected from the roof in a 20,000 litre tank.

    We can’t really trust our water, not in its supply nor in its quality. Last summer twice we had to buy water and have it trucked in. For drinking we use the filters that MSF use when they’re working in places without potable water.

    I would happily pay a reasonable rate to have a consistent, monitored water supply. That way I wouldn’t have to spend the summer tapping the side of the tank and watching the sky, hoping that the rain will come in time.

    Hoping too that that rain doesn’t come with the lightning that threatens every year to spark another inferno. (The Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 missed us by 3 km.) I would also love to be on mains water in case we do get overrun by a fire. As it stands if the power goes out we lose our water because the pump won’t work, and we can’t afford a backup generator.* Mains water might fail in a major fire, but it’s more likely to stay on than the power is.

    I would also happily pay so that I don’t have to warn my 7 year old daughter to try and not get the shower or bath water in her mouth. To be fair, the tank water is probably fine. But there is always that bit of doubt, and it’s economically infeasible for us to have it tested frequently enough to be sure of its safety.

    *Our bushfire survival plan is to run like hell at the first sign of trouble. We keep go-bags with all the important stuff and basic survival gear by the door in summer. Only in the event of a fire starting so close that the smoke arrives before we can flee will we stay and defend. Hell, as the owner of a bicycle store and a proud lifelong cycle commuter I was hoping to go to my grave never having owned an internal combustion engine. But we bought a car just two weeks after Black Saturday. I may be a dedicated cyclist, but I’m not an idiot.

  8. 8

    As I recall, when the World Bank imposed austerity measures on Bolivia as condition for assistance, part of the deal included a 40 years exclusive deal for. Be hotel to privatize the municipal water systems. Water bills went up dramatically, sometimes forcing families to choose between water and food. The deal even gave Bechtel exclusive rights to the RAIN that fell on private property! The Bolivians, naturally because they aren’t cowed like Americans, revolted in protest:

    One thing is clear: these deals are never meant to improve the lives of the population, but of the contractors getting the sweetheart deals.

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