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Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan TD and Minister of State with responsibility for NewERA, Fergus O’Dowd TD, have announced a six week public consultation on a number of fundamental reforms of the water sector.

According to the press release issued by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, the reforms include: the establishment of a new public utility, Irish Water to take over the responsibility for the delivery of water services from local authorities; the introduction of water charges based on metered usage; and the introduction of independent economic regulation of the water sector under the Commission for Energy Regulation.  

The creation of  Irish Water as a full public utility, according to the press release, would create 2,000 long-term construction jobs;  focus on fixing the current leaks in the system; attract foreign investment and job creation; have responsibility for investment and the delivery of services; protect the environment and public health; encourage water conservation through the use of water meters; and support implementation of River Basin Management Plans.

While the local government system has served the country well in providing necessary water and sewerage infrastructure, a number of problems have been highlighted with the current model of water services provision including: fragmentation; the inability to achieve real economies of scale in delivery and operation; lack of independent economic regulation; significant overheads in the management of water services; and high operational expenditure.

While Irish Water will be a national company, it will have a regional focus and a phased transition is proposed to ensure continuity of service and the building of a fit for purpose organisation within a reasonable timescale.  

Economic regulation of the water sector will be undertaken by the Commission for Energy Regulation.

A consultation paper on these issues, and a copy of the independent assessment which examined the optimal organisational structure for an Irish water utility will be available from tomorrow, January 17 at under “public consultation”. 

Views are being sought by close of business on Friday February 24 2012.