Queueing in the Rain. for Water; Tapwater Runs Dry for Thousands Just as Downpours Trigger a Deluge of Flooding

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Byline: Simon Creer

FAMILIES were forced to queue for drinking water yesterday - even as they endured flooding and torrential downpours.

Flooding was particularly severe in Cork and Kerry as the freeze turned to thaw and storm-force winds drove in up to 50mm of rain.

A platoon of 40 soldiers had to be deployed in Skibbereen, west Cork, to sandbag homes against rising floodwaters - the fourth time this winter that sandbags have had to be deployed. Burst pipes, and reservoirs down to levels more often seen at the height of summer, meant that families were forced to use stand-pipes or mobile tankers to get water.

And there are warnings that weather damage to our crumbling water infrastructure is so bad, we face up to six months of problems.

For the second time in two months, Cork city residents were forced to rely on emergency water tankers to supply their houses.

In Dublin, where tankers have been dispatched to relieve households, the council admitted it had no idea of the extent of the problem. It could take until June before the capital's water network is fully fixed, officials warned.

The Noonans in Passage West, Cork, were among hundreds of families who were yesterday facing another day without water.

Husband and wife Alan and Kealan, their two-year-old daughter Amy and five-month-old boy Andrew have been without water for five days - a problem compounded by the fact they were stranded in their home over the weekend by severe ice and snow.

Mrs Noonan said: 'Our neighbours lost their water on Friday but because we still had running water that morning, we thought we would be OK and we were helping them to stock up from our tap.

'They have two small children and, when their water went, I couldn't even start to imagine what we would do if we were in that situation.

'It wasn't too long before we found out because when we woke up on Saturday morning and turned on the taps to make Andrew's bottle, we realised we were in the very same situation.'

Her husband added: 'Because Andrew is only five months, we're very conscious of the fact that we cannot used bottled water to make his bottles as the sodium content can be too high. This has proved very difficult.

'We have been lucky that family and friends have been able to get to us with tap water, we're very worried by the fact that the reservoirs are at uncharacteristically low levels and more people seem to be losing water rather than having it restored.'

John Gormley, who was yesterday at a briefing for the National Emergency Response Co-Ordination Committee, advised residents to conserve as much water as possible. And the Environment Minister warned householders to stop leaving taps running to avoid pipes freezing.

But critics said the Government had been repeatedly told that the capacity for water treatment was insufficient and this was where the problem lay.

Fine Gael deputy Phil Hogan said: 'The state of Ireland's water network is a direct reflection of the Government that is supposed to manage it - fragmented, under-resourced and falling to pieces. Ireland has a crazy system whereby 34 local authorities are responsible for investing and maintaining their own supplies, working in isolation and with almost no co-operation between neighbouring areas.

"Before any of the recent crises, 43 per cent of all drinking water was being lost through leaks. So it's no surprise that some local authorities are cutting off supplies to houses and businesses, when there are plentiful supplies in neighbouring counties.'

Labour councillor Mary Freehill said Dublin City Council had warned the Government that there was insufficient storage capacity for treated water for the city. …