‘Derry is staring a water crisis in the face’

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The dire need for greater investment in the Derry water network was frankly outlined by NI Water’s investment boss in the Guildhall this week.

Dr. Stephen Blockwell, Head of Investment Management at NI Water left members of the Council’s Environment & Regeneration Committee under no illusions about the pressures facing the system when he addressed them on Wednesday.

The local sewerage and water system is nearing crisis point and more investment is urgently needed, he warned.

Mr. Blockwell explained how under its ongoing 2015 to 2021 Capital Business Plan the public utility projected a need for £2.8billion in funding.

Of this, £1.7billion is scheduled for investment but so far only £990million has been forthcoming. For the 2021 to 2027 funding period, meanhile, Mr. Blockwell believes NI Water will need £3.36billion, of which £2.54billion is recommended for investment. Only £1.2billion has thus far been allocated.

This means NI Water will have no choice but to defer dozens of Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) projects, which will mean more and more sewerage systems reaching capacity, including in Derry.

Mr. Blockwell showed councillors a map of the North that highlighted large under pressure WWTWs in red.

“There’s a large red dot over Derry,” remarked SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins. “It’s very frightening,” she said.

DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney said the future projections were “very, very stark”.

“We are staring a crisis in the face,” he said. “Take this city. It’s a hotspot.”

Ald. Devenney proposed writing to central government demanding sufficient funding for NI Water. He received unanimous backing.

“They got half of what they really need over the 2015-21 period to get the infrastructure into the 21st century,” he said.

Mr. Blockwell told members that as a government company - or ‘Go-Co’ - it was not allowed to run a surplus and its spending was constrained.

He told the committee: “NI Water’s current governance model is broken, to date it hasn’t delivered the investment that Northern Ireland needs,” and that “if funding continues at current levels there will be significant constraints on economic growth, damage to the environment and risk to people’s health.”

Responding to Ald. Devenney, he asked: “Are we at crisis point? We do see the PC21 period as a turning point. We need this funding.”

He added: “It’s not gold-plated. This is to get us back to where we were in 2007. It is a crisis.”

Sinn Féin Colr. Sandra Duffy said the presentation was “stark in outlining the pressures facing the system”.

People Before Profit’s Eamonn McCann said the situation was “drastic” and suggested “extra-legal steps” may be needed to pressurise authorities into taking action on the environment generally. He referred to recent actions by Zero Waste North West and Extinction Rebellion.

“It is going to take radical, mass action. People may think that is amusing. It is not amusing at all,” he said.