Category Archives: Environment

Who’s to blame for Dublin’s water blackouts

Future Shock: The Last Drop

Future Shock: The Last Drop

I am afflicted with the need to bore people about Dublin’s strained relationship with water. I do it a lot. In fact I do it to an olympic level, I could bore for my country about water and take gold in all disciplines. I’ve been doing it for a long time too, above is a picture of me blathering on about Dublin’s water supply in a Future Shock documentary back in 2007.

Most of the time I’m just boring but for a few brief days every year when there’s shortages of supply in the capital city I am an all knowing seer. A prophet, a futurologist even. Except I’m not because everything that I have been reporting for nearly ten years was identified as a problem 20 years before I ever stumbled upon it.

The problem in a nutshell is that for an uncomfortable amount of the year the demand outstrips what the system can comfortably supply. In the graph below you’ll see the red line (demand for water) matches and regularly exceeds the blue line (what’s produced).

Water Supply

The system is forced to work beyond its maximum capacity much of the time leaving no wriggle room, no margin for error and certainly no room whatsoever for unforseen climate/weather related events. The cities of most developed countries operate with a spare capacity of at least 20%, in Dublin that figure is officially 1% but is actually a minus figure when the system is working beyond what it was designed to do.

We can’t fix the problem anytime soon so “water blackouts” and constriction of supply will be a feature of life in the capital for a long time to come. But on the upside at least it is crystal clear who’s to blame.

A GENUINELY HAPPY AND RELAXED  BERTIE AHERN IS PICTURED YESTERDAY(SUNDAY) . PIC MAXPIX.

Engineers have been saying for a very long time that what has happened was going to happen. The European Commission was telling us back in the 1980’s that we needed to invest in water services. But at a time when the rest of our European neighbours had the foresight to recognise that Water Rates was an evil necessity they should get on with implementing Bertie Ahern thought otherwise. He and Noel Dempsey returned from a European summit in Lisbon in 2000 with a “major political victory” – a derogation on the implementation of water rates.

Cogent arguments can be made that it was actually Fianna Fail’s scrapping of rates in 1978 or Brendan Howlin’s abolition of the Domestic Service Levy in 1997 that did in investment in water infrastructure. The real scapegoat is probably every government that ignored the engineers over the last 40 years. But Bertie deserves special mention for hitting upon the idea that we needed to be saved from this insidious Euro tax, so that we are now the only OECD nation without water rates . . . for the moment.

Now at a time when households and businesses can least afford it the nettle has to be grasped anyway, but we’ve 20 years catching up to do on that lack of investment. So we’ll be paying through the nose for something we’ve foolishly got used to thinking is free. And we’ll be getting a really poor quality service too until the fruits of that investment will be seen ten or more years from now.

You can listen to a podcast of my report on the specific difficulties being encountered at the Ballymore Eustace treatment plant here. If you’re Bertie Ahern, Brendan Howling or even Joe Higgins you can reflect on a picture of this statue on O’Connell Street.

Sir_John_Gray

That is Sir John Gray. You’ve probably never noticed him nestled in between Daniel O’Connell and Jim Larkin. The cities fathers decided to commemorate him because in the middle of the 19th century he had the foresight to realise that Dubliners couldn’t continue to source all their drinking water from the Liffey and the Royal and Grand canals. He set about raising funds for the Vartry Reservoir at Roundwood which to this day supplies about a quarter of Dublin’s needs. He was a contentious figure but for this act of statesmanship, public service and timely addressing of a looming problem he is now a permanent part of Dublin’s landscape. Can I make my point any clearer.

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Politics, not overfishing, devastated fish stocks.

Trawler

The Hague Preference.

Robert Ludlum really should have come up with that one before Fisheries Ministers did. It would have been a perfect fit for his tersely titled, spy thrillers. Since 2002 though it has been a small part of the complex architecture of the worst piece of policy making currently implemented by the EU – The Common Fisheries Policy.

The worst piece of policy making? Really?

Well, when the commissioner responsible for its enforcement, Maria Damanaki, apologises for it you can assume that it is not actually fit for purpose.

The Hague Preference is a codicil to the policy that depending on your point of view has either kept fishing communities in Ireland and Scotland alive or has contributed to the depletion of fish stocks to close to the point of no return.

The Hague Preference, incredibly nothing to do with Robert Ludlum

The Hague Preference, incredibly nothing to do with Robert Ludlum

The CFP was supposed to apportion quota on a basis that would sustain an economically viable industry and increase fish stocks side by side. It failed miserably at both. In reality marine biologists were presenting their warnings to the fisheries ministers every year. The ministers would thank them, make some of the right noises about preserving fish stocks and then get stuck into extracting every last kilo of quota possible at the negotiating table. Fishermen were spending more and more time at sea and extracting less and less fish because the stocks just weren’t there. The increased costs associated with fishing this way were pushing them to the wall. Fishermen and fish were losing out because policy makers couldn’t change their way of doing business.

You can read the Euro speak definition of The Hague Preference here if you want to give yourself a headache. In plain English though it allowed Scottish and Irish fishermen to ignore reductions in the Total Allowable Catch because their financial situations were so precarious. The Hague Preference alone isn’t responsible for depletion of North Atlantic fish stocks (they’re actually on the rise) but it is a good illustration of how the CFP served nobody’s long term interests.

Fishing net

Though Fish Discards is only a single aspect of the CFP it is the one that has forced the pace of all the other reforms. There’s a handful of celebrity chefs and NGO’s that should take a bow here. Highlighting the stupidity of chucking a quarter of everything that has been caught back into the sea to die made it profitable for some politicians to push CFP changes up their agenda. Regrettably though as an unsustainable system was left to run for so long change will bring upheaval. Everybody claiming authorship of the reform process is pushing a long term increase of 37,000 jobs in the sector across the EU. It is hard to see in the short to medium term, though, how allowing stocks to replenish won’t also see further job losses.

I explored more of these tensions in a radio piece you can podcast here. Inevitably now though whatever distress is caused in coastal communities will be painted as a clash between environmental and social priorities. But if you need a scapegoat – decades of a “slice of the pie” approach to politics would be a far more fitting suspect.

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If you go down to the woods today …

Crone Woods

… you’re in for a big surprise. Four years after Bord Snip first suggested privatising Coillte. Three years after Brian Lenihand and Brian Cowen agreed with the Troika that we should sell off state assets to clear the debt. Two years after the current government started trying to put a price on what the harvesting rights of the trees should be sold for. Two weeks after Simon Coveney promised that the cabinet was going to make a decision within two weeks  … the whole idea is going to be quietly shelved.

Simon Coveney was previously reported as being scheduled to bring the matter to cabinet for debate and a decision yesterday. That didn’t happen, and I understand while it has officially been long fingered for several more weeks, some in government are suggesting that this will be the first step in just quietly shelving the proposal.

One government source said to me that Pat Rabbitte would not have told the Dail that the  prospect of a sale was looking more and more unlikely every day if he didn’t seriously believe that was the case. What has to be agreed now I understand is how this would be presented to the Troika – who will need to be convinced that there is a sound financial reason for the government reneging on something previously agreed, and that the are not just caving in to pressure.

The increasingly vigorous campaign to keep our 10 national parks and 150 woodland amenity locations open to the public will claim a victory. That issue was always something of a red herring though. It is virtually impossible to extinguish rights of way and owners/managers of private forestry already let the public roam freely.

This was about what the sale would yield. And as I reported on Drivetime here, the numbers just didn’t add up and the level of investor interest may have been hugely overestimated.

IMPACT on behalf of its 600 members employed by Coillte commissioned Peter Bacon & Associates to study the financial dividend from a sell off. Though their conclusions naturally enough emphasise the downside but rather starkly highlight that the revenue generated would be equivalent to three weeks of interest payments on our national debt. Shrewd campaigning, but it would appear that many in government had already arrived at a similar conclusion.

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No Planet B

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide passed a significant milestone at the Hawaiian monitoring station that has been recording these things longer than anywhere else on the planet. I did a piece for radio where you can hear the officials from Mauna Loa Observatory analyse the significance of this in their own words.

There is little a generalist like me can add to the Climate Change debate that hasn’t already been argued, but allow me to share this graph with you, which you mightn’t have seen.

Climate Efforts vs Global CO2 rise

It charts efforts at a political level to check our carbon emissions and maps them against the unstoppable progress of atmospheric CO2 through the previously unthinkable threshold of 400 molecules for every million molecules of air.

Or rather it charts the redundancy of those political efforts. It is a crude index, but an eloquent way of saying that Carbon Emissions Trading lies in tatters; austerity has brought coal back into fashion with a vengeance; and governments all over thew world are letting themselves off the hook of their commitments.

I could go on, but this is a scientific debate and the scientists say it much better than journalists – so listen here to the significance of another signpost now in the rear view mirror

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Filed under Climate Change, Drivetime, Economics, Environment, Politics, Society