As water system creaks, now we’re all paying for Stormont’s failure to take tough decisions

News Letter editorial of Wednesday July 22 2021:

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 6:46 am
News Letter editorial

Last Friday NI Water appealed to the public to conserve water because their system was struggling to cope with surging demand.

The previous day 695 million litres of water had been pumped into the network – about 120 million litres more than would be normal.

But after the appeal, usage went up even higher. The utility had to pump out 743 million litres into pipes on Saturday and 735 million litres on Sunday. While some of that water is no doubt being wasted through leaks or thoughtless wastefulness by some people, there is another obvious reason.

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Lockdowns over the last 18 months have seen a revival of interest in gardening. In such unusually hot weather that pastime inevitably consumes huge volumes of water. For gardeners fearing that a hosepipe ban may be around the corner, they may have been prompted to give their plants one final soak rather than see them shrivel up and die.

But while the public has a part to play in keeping supplies flowing, there are others who should also be facing scrutiny.

There have been years of problems in NI Water and Stormont has long known that investment in water and sewerage infrastructure is inadequate. Climate change means that these temperatures are likely to become more common, and so infrastructure will have to adapt.

Yet populist Stormont parties have consistently rejected water charges which not only would have brought in money for investment, but would have disincentivised the sort of wastage which now means that some people may lose their supply.

Earlier this month Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon wrote in these pages about the need for an independent infrastructure commission which “does not fall victim to short term election cycles”.

If that means political support for unpopular but correct decisions, such a proposal should be supported. But it must not mean politicians washing their hands of the problem by blaming yet another quango for obvious problems.

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