The Water Services Act 2007 modernises the law in relation to water and sewage/wastewater. It replaced a range of legislation dating from the mid to late 19th century including in particular the Water Clauses Acts from the mid-19th century and the Public Health (Ireland) Acts, 1878. The Act deals with water in itself rather than broader issues such as privatisation, pollution control, water quality and water resource management etc.
Under the older legislation, Councils were designated sanitary authorities (now Irish Water), reflecting the public health origin of the water and sewage/ waste water disposal legislation. Under the 2007 legislation, they were re-designated as the Water Services Authority. Ultimately, their functions have been transferred to Irish Water under the 2012/13 legislation.
Provisions of pre-1922 statutes are no longer to have the force of law where their application would frustrate the application of the legislation. The provisions of any other statutes which obliges a water services authority (now Irish Water) to provide water services outside its area would be interpreted as enabling it to do so only rather than the obliging it to do so. Any legislation or agreement restricting to a specified sum the amount which a water services authority (now Irish Water) may charge for water services is no longer to apply.
Basic Powers & Duties
Water services, under legislation refers to both water and water disposal services for households, businesses and public institutions. Waters services authorities (now Irish Water) were given a broader range of functions both operational and supervisory. These now apply to Irish Water.
Waters services authority have powers to provide, facilitate and supervise the provision of water services within their area. They may provide services outside their area with the consent of the relevant authority for the area. Waters services must be provided in accordance with national policy and prescribed standards.
Water service providers have powers to construct sewage drains and water supply pipes. They may install pipes and related infrastructure under or along a road subject to obtaining the consent of the road authority. The consent may be subject to conditions. Consent may specify conditions including work standards, reinstatement requirements, and times when works may be carried out.
Each authority must ensure that the water intended for human consumption meets prescribed standards. A water authority may issue, prohibit or restrict water supply in order to protect human health or the environment.
Water authorities (now Irish Water) may specify technical requirements for connection to their mains and sewer. The Minister may prescribe regulations and technical standards for such purposes.
Each water service provider must make a strategic plans every six years for its functional area. It must be submitted to the Minister for approval. The plan is to set out the position in its area both current and projected in relation to water services. It is to identify appropriate responses with a view to protecting human health and the environment and support sustainable development. Joint plans may be made.
The Minister may approve the plan with or without modification. It may require two or more water services authorities (now Irish Water) to co-ordinate or provide a joint plan.
Waters services authorities (now Irish Water) must publish their approved plans and make them available. They are obliged to implement them.
Water service authorities (now Irish Water) have general powers and duties to monitor and inspect. They are obliged to maintain records and verify the results of monitoring and inspection. Water service providers may be required by the Minister to carry out and facilitate specified monitoring. Regulations may be made in relation to the recovery of inspection and monitoring costs by authority.
Water service authorities (now Irish Water) may enter an agreement with any person to provide water services infrastructure. This may be with a view to its ultimately being transferred to the water service authority.
There is immunity from proceedings for damages arising out of non-performance by the Minister, a water services authority or other prescribed persons. Officers, employees and associated entities are indemnified by their employers or appointed bodies against proceedings taken by them in the legitimate pursuit by them of their functions.
Water services providers may interrupt services for maintenance purposes where there is a risk to human health or to the environment. Generally seven days’ notice is given, save in an emergency. Services are to be restored as soon as possible. Where drinking water supplies are interrupted for more than 24 hours, alternative facilities must be provided.
A water services authority may require that a premises within its functional area should be connected to water supply or waste water works located within the vicinity. There is a right of appeal to the District Court against the requirement.
There are provisions to facilitate completion of necessary works to effect the connection. The water services authority is obliged to undertake the necessary works, but it may recover the cost.
The waters services authority may at its discretion provide or take in charge a service connection.
A service connection is made by extending a conduit from the boundary of a premises to a watermain or sewer or in some cases directly to a treatment works.
A Water services authority has power to direct an owner to carry out renewal or remedial work. It may undertake the work itself and recover the cost. It may contribute to the costs of repairing a service connection.
An owner may carry out work on a service connection passing under a road subject to the approval of the road authority. It is an offence to damage a service connection.
A water services authority shall on request, repair privately owned water service connections that pass under private land not belonging to the owner of the premises, serviced by the connection. It may recover the cost from the person facilitated by the work.
It is an offence to damage any watermain, sewer drain or service connection or related equipment belonging to a water services provider. Where under other legislation, water services authorities (now Irish Water) are obliged to consult with other public authorities before undertaking works, these obligations remain unless the legislation otherwise provides.
The Minister may make regulations on procedural matters arising from road opening and works etc. The powers of the local authority under the planning legislation to lay water pipes, showers and drains under any land not forming part of a road are applicable to water services authority for their function.
Water authorities (now Irish Water) must keep records in such format as may be prescribed. They must keep a register of persons as may be prescribed. The register shall contain such information as shall be prescribed.
Records may be held in electronic form which may be converted into a legible form. Certificates of the contents of records are deemed evidence of their contents for the purpose of proceedings.
Each water service authority (now Irish Water) is to record the location of all water mains, sewers and associated works in its area. Records are to be made available to the public. Other providers of water services must supply the necessary information for the purpose of the authority’s records and obligations.
Owners, occupiers and their agents of properties must provide information on request to water service authorities (now Irish Water) and other prescribed persons in relation to their ownership of property.
There is provision for appointment of authorised persons who have powers of inspection, entry, enforcement etc. Persons, who fails to provide information regarding their ownership when requested, commit an offence.
An officer has power at reasonable times where he believes there is a risk to human health or the environment or where an offence has been or is being committed under the Act, to enter premises, or vehicles and detain them. He may enter a property with equipment. He may be accompanied by a member from Garda Síochána. A dwelling house may not be entered save with prior warrants of the District Court.
For the purpose of their functions, they may take photographs, carry out inspections, take samples, monitor effluent, take surveys, require that the premises or anything on them be left undisturbed for period as may be specified, require information from occupiers, require production of records, examine works, equipment, carry out repairs and remedial works etc. It is an offence to obstruct, impede, give false information or fail to comply with the directions of an authorised officer.
Councils acting as water services authorities (now Irish Water) or as agents for them may recover sums due to the courts or by deduction for monies owed to the council by the person who owes the money. The Minister may make regulations to the procedural aspect.
Where on application by a water services authority, the court is satisfied that a person has failed to comply with a requirement under the Act and the failure is likely to cause a risk to human health or the environment, it may direct the person concerned to comply with the requirement and may order that he or she pay costs.
Minister / Department
The powers of the Minister for Local Government and the Environment in relation to water services are defined. The Minister has powers to prescribe common standards and direct water authorities to provide particular services.
There may be schemes of financial assistance. The scheme regulations may set out the objects and purpose of the schemes, amount of assistance available, application procedures, eligibility, monitoring and reporting, compliance with tax requirements, recovery of payment, consequential provisions.
The legislation provides for a strategic planning process. Each authority was required to make a six year strategic plan and which must be approved by the Minister.
The Minister may make regulations assigning additional functions to the water services authorities (now Irish Water). This may be done in particular for the purpose of implementing EU and other international obligations to which the State is party.
The Minister may pay grants for the purpose of the legislation. Regulations may be provided establishing schemes of grant assistance for water services purposes.
It is the duty of the Minister to facilitate the provision of safe and efficient water services and related water services infrastructure. The Minister is responsible for the performance by the water services authority of their functions and for planning and supervision of investment in water services.
The Minister may provide guidance, issue directions and monitor and compare performance of water services authority. He may appoint committees and consultative groups as are necessary to assist in the performance of functions.
The Minister may issue a compliance notice specifying remedial action required to be taken in relation to the performance of functions. Regulations may provide for notice and consultation relating to such compliance notices.
The Minister may make regulations which require water service authorities (now Irish Water) and other entities to undertake consultations in the exercise of their functions.
The Minister may make regulations imposing obligations on water services authorities (now Irish Water) to provide services to particular classes of consumer. He may direct individual water services authority to provide services in a particular area.
The Minister may make regulations governing the provision of water services by a water services authority or other entity. He may prescribe performance standards for the purpose of transposition of EU requirements on drinking water standards and wastewater treatment.
The Minister may issue guidelines and codes of practice in relation to the provision of water services and the performance generally of water service authority’s functions under the legislation.
Failure to comply with the guidelines or codes is evidence admissible in the prosecution of an offence under the legislation.
The legislation provides for a range of offences. The fines range from €100 in respect of minor matters to up to €5,000 in respect of many offences. In proceedings under the legislation, it is not necessary to mention the owner or occupier of a house by name in order to sustain the proceedings.
Another category of offences have penalties between €500 and or imprisonment up to three months or both. Certain offences are subject to prosecution on summary conviction or indictment with imprisonment up to five years and up to €15 million fine. These apply only to a handful of the more minor, more serious offences.
The water services authority may bring proceedings to prosecute offences. Offences may be brought within 12 months of the circumstances arising which may be extended for up to five years in certain cases.
It is an offence to obstruct or interfere with the exercise by the water services authority of its functions or to fail to comply with notices and directions lawfully issued under the legislation.