Updated: 20/09/16 : 17:29:45
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Irish Water pleads guilty over drinking water quality

Irish Water has pleaded guilty to failing to implement a plan to improve drinking water quality in Carraroe in Co Galway and was ordered to give €3,000 to charity to avoid a criminal conviction.

The company is being prosecuted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a delay in completing a €1m project to deal with a water quality problem in Carraroe.

Earlier this year residents in the Connemara village received boil water notices.

The prosecution was listed before Judge John O'Neill today at Dublin District Court.

Irish Water pleaded guilty to charges under EU (drinking water) regulations that between December 1, 2015 and January 8 last it failed to comply with a directive issued by the EPA to implement an action programme approved by the agency for the improvement of the quality of water for human consumption from Carraroe public water supply, to react to parametric values specified for trihalomethanes (THMs).

THMs are a group of organic chemicals formed when chlorine is used to disinfect water and reacts with naturally occurring organic matter in raw water.

An action plan had been approved by the environmental watchdog agency on Septemebr 9, 2014 but the required work was not completed by Irish Water until this year.

Prosecution solicitor Maeve Larkin said the offence can carry a class A fine of €5,000.

Darragh Page, a senior inspector with the EPA, told the court that in drinking water there should be no more than 100mgs of THMs per litre to be safe.

However tests indicated the levels in the water in Carraroe were in excess.

There had been an elevated level for several years until recently, he said.

He agreed with Ms Larkin that the solution was to pre-treat the water using filtration to take out colour or organic matter before using chlorine so the by-product THMs are not formed.

An action plan was agreed with Irish Water but it was not fully complied with until this year, the court heard. In January, five weeks after the deadline, Mr Page visited the treatment plant and saw that it had been unchanged and the level of THMs still exceeded the standards expected.

The court heard Irish Water had no prior criminal convictions.

However, in an earlier prosecution by the EPA they were given the benefit of the Probation Act for a charge connected to discharge in a Co. Louth stream.

Defence counsel Eoghan Cole said the action plan was drafted in good faith and it included a time-frame which was thought realistic.

However, unforeseen problems developed and this was exacerbated by Irish Water through a breakdown in communicating that to the EPA.

The delay was caused by difficulties with planning permission, the court heard. However, Irish Water have now completed the upgrades at a cost of €1m, counsel said.

Mr Cole also told the court that the problem with the THM levels had persisted for a number of years and it was one which was inherited by Irish Water from Galway County Council. Irish Water also agreed to pay the EPA's legal and investigation costs and they co-operated with the EPA, the defence barrister said, adding that the court has discretion to consider not recording a conviction.

Judge O'Neill said it was not right that Irish Water took for granted that there would not be planning permission difficulties.

However, he agreed to order them make a charitable contribution rather than imposing a conviction.

He ordered that €3,000 must go to local charity, Aras an Dara in Carraroe , which helps elderly people with dementia. Adjourning the case he said that if the money is donated by September 30 he would apply the Probation Act, which would spare Irish Water a conviction.

“I will keep my options open if that is not done,” he added.