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Minister Murphy announces new three-year investment programme for water services in rural areas

Published on Friday, 08 Feb 2019
Minister Eoghan Murphy

Mr. Eoghan Murphy, T.D., Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government today, Friday 8 February 2019, announced a new investment programme for water services in rural areas.  The Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme is to run from 2019 to 2021.

Capital funding of €23 million has been provided in 2019, an increase of €3 million from the existing programme which finished in 2018.  A total of €75 million has been committed under the National Development Plan to 2021.

The announcement follows the review the Minister put in place to examine the wider investment needs relating to rural water services.  In 2018 the Minister appointed a high level Working Group which has now made recommendations for changes and improvements, which the Minister has accepted.

Key features of the Programme include:

  • Significant capital investment to support Group Water Schemes in rural areas.
  • A new grant measure to support rural communities to link to the public drinking water and waste water network.
  • The maximum grant for refurbishment works to a domestic well will increase from €2,031 to €3,000.  A new and additional provision is included for a maximum grant of €5,000 where a new well is required as an exceptional measure.
  • The means test to qualify for a grant to carry out improvement works on a septic tank is being abolished and the maximum grant is being increased to €5,000.  Currently, the maximum grant amounts available are €2,500 and €4,000 depending on the applicant’s means. Eligibility for the grant scheme is also being extended.

For the capital funding measures to support group water schemes, local authorities are now being invited to submit proposals, in consultation with local group water schemes in their counties.  The deadline for receipt of proposals in the Minister’s Department is Thursday 14 March 2019.

The changes to the grant schemes for private wells and septic tanks are planned to come into effect at the end of April 2019.  Guidelines and revised application forms will be sent to local authorities before the changes take effect.

Announcing the new Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme, Minister Murphy said:

“The Programme has been expanded and will now consist of eight separate funding measures rather than the six that were in place.  There are some significant changes from the previous programme with an increased emphasis on the protection of water sources, development of community water services connections and changes to grants for private wells and septic tanks.  To facilitate these enhancements I have secured an increased capital funding amount for the Programme of €23 million, an increase of €3 million on 2018.  Under the National Development Plan, total funding of €75 million is to be made available for the period 2019-2021.

The increase in funding demonstrates the Government’s strong commitment to supporting this critically important resource.  It also reflects the need for additional targeted investment in order to improve the quality and availability of rural water services.

Good quality water services are a prerequisite to every aspect of social and economic development, and health and wellbeing in all parts of the country.  The economic development, as well as the population and employment growth and distribution targeted in the National Planning Framework to 2040 will be dependent on the capacity of our water services infrastructure.  We must carefully plan for the efficient and sustainable use and development of water resources and water services in our rural areas”

Full details of the measures supported under the programme and the revised grants schemes are set out in appendix below.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor

Rural water services account for a significant portion of our overall water services.  Based on the most recent Census figures, 9% of people have their drinking water supplied by group water schemes.  A further 10% of people get their drinking water from private wells.  A total of 29% of households are not connected to public wastewater services and depend on either a septic tank, group wastewater treatment or other systems for treating their waste water.

In April 2018 the Minister established a Working Group to conduct a review of the wider investment needs relating to rural water services.  This followed from a recommendation made by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Service in 2017.

The terms of reference for the review provided for a two-strand approach. Strand 1, which has now concluded, considered the composition and distribution of funding for the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme from 2019 up to 2021.  The recommendations arising from this Strand of work form the basis for the enhanced investment Programme being announced by the Minister today.

Strand 2 is considering the more complex longer-focus issues surrounding the long-term future resourcing of the Rural Water Sector. This work will continue in 2019, with further recommendations expected to be made to the Minister later this year.

The organisations that are participating on the Working Group reflect the importance and wide ranging impact of the Rural Water Sector. In addition to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Working Group comprises: the Department of Rural and Community Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Health Service Executive, the National Federation of Group Water Schemes and the County and City Management Association. The Working Group is also consulting with other relevant stakeholders.

The first three-year cycle of the inaugural Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme started in 2016 and ended in 2018.  In arriving at its recommendations, the Working Group considered how each of the 6 measures in the 2016 to 2018 Programme had operated and performed.  It also considered the need for changes and refinements to the Programme.

The new Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme will consist of eight measures

Appendix – Details of the Programme and Significant Changes

Funding measured under the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme 2019-2021

The eight funding measures being supported under the new Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme for 2019-2021 are:

  • (New) Measure 1 - Source Protection (Group Water Scheme Sector): This measure is aimed at protecting the raw water source of existing group water schemes thus contributing to the safety of water users through the ability of the scheme to sustainably achieve compliance with the water quality parameters of the Drinking Water Regulations on a consistent long-term basis.  This is a new stand-alone measure.
  • Measure 2 - Public health compliance (Group Water Scheme Sector): This measure is aimed at improving water quality in existing group water schemes, through upgrading of their treatment facilities, so that the group schemes can sustainably achieve compliance with the parameters of the Drinking Water Regulations on a consistent long-term basis,
  • Measure 3 - Enhancement of existing schemes including water conservation (Group Water Scheme Sector): This measure supports projects to make existing group water schemes more efficient in their operation (e.g. water conservation and network upgrades, including storage) in order to ensure good water quality on a consistent sustainable basis,
  • Measure 4 – New Group Water Schemes: This measure supports social and economic development in rural towns and villages and their hinterlands by providing new group water schemes where public water supply schemes or individual/private wells are not the most viable option,
  • Measure 5 – Transition of Existing Group Water Schemes and Group Sewerage Schemes to the Public (Irish Water) Water Sector: This measure enables existing group water schemes and existing group sewerage schemes, where they wish to do so and with the agreement of Irish Water, to transition to the public water sector (Irish Water),
  • (New) Measure 6 - Community Connections (Water and Wastewater): This measure facilitates the continued expansion of the coverage of piped water supplies and central wastewater collection systems by extension off the public (Irish Water) network,
  • Measure 7 - Innovation and Research: This measure is aimed at issues in the rural water sector which, given the major transition of water services in Ireland, require new and innovative approaches and solutions,
  • Measure 8 - Individual wells (more commonly known as private or household wells) and domestic wastewater treatment systems (more commonly known as septic tanks): This measure is aimed at allowing householders that are dependent on these services to obtain funding support for their improvement.

Local authorities will be required to assess and prioritise project proposals under Measures 1 to 7 before their submission to the Department for funding consideration.  Funding allocations under the different measures will then be made by the Minister.  The changes to the grant schemes under Measure 8 (Wells and Septic Tanks) are to come into effect at the end of April 2019.

Significant Changes from the 2016-2018 Programme

The most significant changes from the current programme, including new measures, are as follows.

Measure 1 - Source Protection (Group Water Scheme Sector)

This is now a new and expanded stand-alone measure – source protection was formerly covered under Measure 2 of the 2016-2018 multi-annual programme as part of the measure ‘Enhancement of existing schemes’.  Water resource and source protection provides the first barrier in the protection of drinking-water quality.

The aim is to better inform the participating Group Water Schemes and communities about potential hazards within their source catchment and to develop a raw water monitoring programme.  In addition, its aim is to identify practical source-protection measures to be undertaken by the schemes and to create scheme and community awareness within the catchment about overall Water Framework Directive objectives and the importance of protecting the drinking-water source.

Grants under Measure 1 for source protection projects by group water schemes will be at 100% of the cost of necessary and approved works. This reflects the focus of the measure which is on water quality and public health.

Measure 6 - Community Connection to (Water and Wastewater) Networks

This is a new measure the aim of which is to facilitate the continued expansion in rural areas of the coverage of piped water supplies and central wastewater collection systems. Investment under the measure will support social and economic development and living standards in rural towns and villages and their hinterlands and promote sustained improvements in the quality of water in the rural environment.

This measure will facilitate the continued expansion of the coverage of the existing public water supply and wastewater collection systems where this is justified and is both technically and economically viable. Therefore, funding of community connection (water and wastewater) networks will be considered viable where the connection is in sufficiently close proximity to the existing Irish Water network.  Accordingly, there will be two sub-measures that can provide:

  1. piped water supplies to the rural population through the development of community water connection networks as extensions to the existing public (Irish Water) water distribution network in areas where a private group water scheme or private wells are not viable options,
  2. wastewater collection to population clusters, currently on deficient individual wastewater treatment systems (septic tanks), immediately adjacent to towns and villages through the development of community wastewater connection networks as extensions to the existing public (Irish Water) wastewater collection system.

The following levels of grant aid are to apply:

  • Community Water Connection Networks: Grants of up to 85% of cost are available subject to a maximum grant of €7,650 per house (this means that the effective cost limit for qualifying works per house for the project is €9,000),
  • Community Wastewater Connection Networks: Grants of up to 75% of cost are available subject to a maximum grant of €6,750 per house (this means that the effective cost limit for qualifying works per house for the project is €9,000).

A supplementary grant in excess of these limits will only be considered in exceptional circumstances where full justification is provided and approved.

Measure 8 - Individual wells (private or household wells)

Under the current scheme a person is eligible for a grant if they are providing a piped supply of water to a house for the first time or carrying out improvements to a seriously deficient existing piped supply of water to a house. The vast majority of grant applications are for improvement works.

Currently a grant of €2,031 per house or 75% of the approved costs, whichever is the lesser, is available.  The minimum grant threshold for an application is €635.  Eligibility for a grant is currently not subject to a means test.  The dwelling must be a minimum seven years old.  If a grant is approved, another application cannot be made for a further seven years.

Following an examination of the current arrangements, consultation with stakeholders including local authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Health Service Executive, and consideration of the matter by the Working Group, the following changes have now been agreed by the Minister:

  • A maximum grant for rehabilitation works of €3,000, which represents an increase of 47% on the current maximum grant amount.
  • Where the local authority agrees that the most appropriate solution is to provide a new well, the maximum grant payable would be €5,000.
  • Recognising the role of the grant in improving quality, the water quality treatment element (typically filtration and UV filtration) will qualify for 100% funding up to a maximum of €1,000.
  • Up to 85% of other costs would be met, subject to the total combined maximum costs of €3,000 for well rehabilitation or €5,000 for a new well. Applicants would not be able to avail of both grant amounts i.e. they would not be able to avail of €3,000 for well rehabilitation as well as the €5,000 for a new well.
  • The qualifying age of a house before an application can be made is to remain at 7 years.  The period before a further application can be made is also remaining at 7 years.  As an additional feature, applicants would be permitted to make a second application if the maximum grant was not fully utilised within the seven year period. This might include, for example, cases where some significant unforeseen or emergency issue arises after the first application.
  • A minimum grant threshold will remain – but will be raised from €635 to €750.
  • The scheme is to continue to be demand-led, subject to an overall limit in funding to be determined annually under the multi-annual programme.
  • The costs in 2018 were some €2.76 million.  Provision of €4 million is being made for 2019.  This will be kept under review throughout 2019, having regard to the level of demand.

  Measure 8 - Domestic Wastewater Treatment Systems Grant Scheme (Septic Tanks)

Under the current arrangements, this grant is available from the local authority in the area in which the householder lives.  Under certain conditions households can receive a grant to assist them in carrying out remediation, repair or upgrading works to, or replacement of their individual domestic wastewater treatment system more commonly known as septic tanks.

To avail of the grant the treatment system must have been inspected under the EPA’s National Inspection Plan and an Advisory Notice must have been issued by the local authority under the Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012. Also, the treatment system requiring attention must have been registered by the owner of the premises connected to it by 1 February 2013. Currently, there are household income limits in order to avail of the grant, as set out in the table under.

  Household Income

  % of approved cost available   Maximum grant available
  Up to €50,000   80%   €4,000
  €50,001 - €75,000   50%   €2,500
  In excess of €75,000   No grant payable   No grant payable

The grant scheme is now being expanded to support the attainment of water quality objectives in what are called ‘high status’ water areas and ‘prioritised areas for action’, as identified in the River Basin Management Plan for Ireland 2018-2021.  The River Basin Management Plan sets out a list of measures for delivery of environmental objectives that include the regulation of Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems.

The intention is to maintain the existing level of grant funded works arising from inspections under the National Inspection Plan.  In parallel, additional grant applications are being encouraged and facilitated for the costs of repairs or upgrading or replacement of systems from households with registered domestic wastewater treatment systems located in the designated areas.  These arrangements are subject to revision of regulations, including in relation to planning.

In order to ensure greater uniformity with other measures in the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme the means test that previously applied to this grant scheme is being removed and the level of grant support is being increased to 85% of the eligible costs of installation/upgrade or €5,000 (up from €2,500/€4,000), whichever is the lesser.  This represents an increase of 25% and 100%, respectively, relative to the current maximum grant levels.

The removal of the means test and the setting of the grant level at 85% of eligible costs brings consistency between this scheme and the grant scheme for domestic wells.

In 2017, payments totalling some €200,000 were made by the Department to local authorities to recoup payments made to households under the grants scheme.  Provision of €1.25 million is made for 2019.  This will be kept under review throughout 2019, having regard to the emerging level of demand

The operation of the new arrangements will be reviewed later in 2019.

 

 

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