How Can We Charge For Excessive Use Of Water?

Key Point

The proposal to charge for excessive use of water under the Water Services Act, 2007 is not credible.


The Report of the Expert Commission on the Funding of Domestic Public Water Services in Ireland recommended that
“Excessive or wasteful use of water should be paid for directly by the user at tariffs determined by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER)” and noted that this would be consistent with the ‘polluter pays principle’.

It noted that many of the submissions it received expressed support for a system based on “paying for what you use” or “paying for excessive use” so long as appropriate social protection and affordability measures were introduced and public ownership of Irish Water is guaranteed. Concerns were also expressed that excessive water leaks are a waste of energy and public money and an environmental concern.

Water Services Act, 2007

It has been suggested that existing legislation is sufficient to deal with the issue of excessive use.

The Water Services Act, 2007 (Section 53(1)(c) provides that “ A person who wilfully wastes or permits wastage of any water supplied by a water services authority to a material extent, commits an offence“

The prescribed penalty on summary conviction for an offence under section 53 (1) is a fine not exceeding €5,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months, or both. (Section 8)

It is debateable whether or not the Courts would hold that filling a swimming pool or watering one’s garden amounts to “wilful waste”.


There are 1.4 million users of domestic water services. The Expert Commission noted that the metered data indicates that

“ 7% of households are using six times more water than the average household, although Irish Water indicated this level of consumption is likely to decline as customer-side leaks are fixed.”.

It is simply not credible to hold that perhaps up to 50,000 cases for excessive uses of water could be taken in the District Court (23 districts).

Our View

We believe that a metered charge for excessive use of water is reasonable and justified once the existing programme to deal with leaks has advanced further. It is the only way to reflect in any way the “polluter pays principle”




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  1. Vince 6 Mar 2017 at 12:02 pm

    I’m sorry but the ‘polluter pays principle’ is just an ugly piece of controlling bullshit, and first cousin to the ‘Health and Safety’ protocols. Where plausible clauses are cast out upon the population that when examined are little more than end-runs around Constitutions or EU treaties. Usually BS that couldn’t get through under Act.
    The people aren’t polluting. But the darn concoction of insane agencies developed since before the CoCo Acts in the 1890’s where we ended up with stupid boundaries and restrictions. Duplication of the upper end costly employment, salaries and pensions as if we were still sucking off the British Empire imperial exchequer.
    OK. What are we talking about with excessive use. The person washing a car, no. The person with a 10min shower, no. The person with a swimming pool, yes. How difficult would it be to put a swimming pool license for the insane nutters with an outdoor pool in this climate.
    Ohh, I live in the South Tipperary (SR) area and to use the tap fot drinking water I have to run it for 10 mins while the chemical concoction re-mixes itself. And then it wafts a chlorine fug that should you water house plants they go yellow. Ergo I’ve been buying water for the last 12 years.

  2. DavidOC 6 Mar 2017 at 12:11 pm

    I worked as a volunteer on a private Group Water Scheme for many years. We did not have a pay-as-you-use system but rather, had an annual subscription. This subscription was not every year but was on the years where it was felt that our bank account balance was insufficient for the following year.
    The problem was that as we didn’t have meters installed, we could not have a pay-as-you-use charging system and this led to a lot of problems. It was often hard to identify excessive usage. On the occasions that we did identify excessive usage, the users would just ignore any requests to behave responsibility. We had someone who filled up their swimming pool, people filling up ornamental ponds, watering their gardens when there was a drought and water supplies running low, washing cars, running businesses such as farms and pubs, etc etc. It was very difficult to get users to accept responsibility and be careful with their water usage. Leaks wouldn’t be fixed because that would cost money whereas the water was costing very little and not measured. When there were supply issues or leaks, the problems were very labour intensive to correct. What kept our cost down was that the scheme was operated on a voluntary basis. If, however, it was run by a group of paid employees, the cost would have been substantial. Administration now takes a lot of time in order to meet the Water Directive and regulations requirements. Repairs, maintenance and water treatment are costly. Water testing costs need to be met. It all adds up. The idea of free water is nonsense and wasted water can make the costs escalate to an unknown substantially.
    In the fifty years that the scheme existed, it more than adequately proved that people could not be depended on to behave responsibility unless there were consequences. Some sort of incentive needs to be in place to ensure that if a quota is exceeded then the user will cover that cost, or at least contribute towards it. This contribution needs to be enough to act as an incentive to ensure that any user who uses more than the quota but also the quota needs to be a realistic amount so people can feel that their needs will be catered for.

  3. Martin Hawkes 6 Mar 2017 at 6:40 pm

    Thanks for that refreshingly succinct and persuasive narrative! Hope the politicians are listening.

  4. Breandán Mac Searraigh 10 Apr 2017 at 10:07 am

    Let’s fix the leaks first, determine how many people are wasting water and then see if we have a real problem that needs a solution.

  5. Water Services Engineer 18 Apr 2017 at 11:52 am

    A few points:

    1) The question of the recovery of costs associated with the excessive use of water is a argument being pursued by political parties to promote and maintain Irish Water as an entity and to ensure the continued payment of salaries to staff in that organisation. It has absolutely nothing to do with the polluter pays principle as referred to in the Water Framework Directive, and has absolutely nothing to do with the cost-effective delivery of water and wastewater services in Ireland in compliance with EU directives.

    2) Your writers on and the ‘expert commission’ on the funding of water services appear not to have even a basic understanding of how water services are delivered and managed in Ireland, nor of the requirements of the EU legislation that governs the delivery of these services.

    The polluter pays principle, as referred to in the Water Framework Directive, relates to the pollution of water-bodies (i.e. rivers and streams). When recovery of costs is mentioned in relation to the Water Framework Directive, it has to do with recovering the costs associated with the pollution into rivers and streams that is preventing river bodies from achieving the good status as required under the directive. EXCESSIVE USE OF DRINKING WATER DOES NOT CAUSE POLLUTION of water bodies. Pollution of rivers and streams is primarily caused by agricultural and industrial practices, and by discharges from sewers into rivers, either continuously, or in overflow situations when the network does not have the capacity. Again, excessive use of drinking water does not cause pollution.

    3) It has been established that Ireland does not have a problem with excessive use of treated drinking water. The daily per capita use is significantly below that of other European countries.

    4) Domestic Water use accounts for approximately 10% of water use in the EU. The remaining 90% is used by industry and agriculture. Irish Water have provided no data to contest this. If irish Water and the government are so interested in reducing excessive treated drinking water use, industry and agriculture should be targeted in the first instance.

    5) Fines for breaches of the Water Framework Directive and the Urban Wastewater Discharge Regulations by Ireland are threatened by the EU. These are fines relating to the mismanagement of our WASTEWATER networks and treatment plants. They are not fines related to drinking water use.

    The body responsible for these breaches is Irish Water. Example: Irish Water continues to permit wastewater connections to wastewater networks that are known to be beyond capacity, increasing spill volumes to rivers (polluting) and therefore breaching the WFD.

    The EU is not propsing to fine Ireland for excessive use of drinking water.

    => Conclusion:

    a) Relating the polluter pays principle to excessive drinking water use is a categorical error. The polluter pays principle relates to POLLUTION – in the case of the Water Framework Directive, to pollution of rivers and streams by industry and by raw sewage.

    b) Supporters of Irish Water and of water charges are using misleading language in referring to the polluter pays principle to support charging domestic drinking water users for excessive use. But we know that excessive drinking water use is not an issue, that it does not cause pollution of rivers and streams, and that it is not the reason that the EU are threatening fines.

    We need to fund the upgrade of our water treatment plants, wastewater treatement plants and water and wastewater networks. Let’s find out first of all who uses these services most, and levy industry and individual users fairly and in proportion. As an out there suggestion, why don’t we get advice from engineers with expertise in the area of water services and water services legislation in drawing up these funding models? There is too much nonsense being spouted by politicians, social policy makers and accountants in this debate.

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