Jill Kerby Column - Conserve water, beat those big water bills

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It is going to be a long, long time before the projected set-up costs for Irish Water - €180 million so far and not including the €500 million cost of meter installation – are ever recouped and the new state monopoly starts making a profit.

It is going to be a long, long time before the projected set-up costs for Irish Water - €180 million so far and not including the €500 million cost of meter installation – are ever recouped and the new state monopoly starts making a profit.

With wages, pensions and bonuses for its 500 staff set at its parent company Bord Gais’ rates where the average income is €70,000 per employee, consumers should assume from the outset that the cost of water in this country is only going to move upward, just like gas and electricity prices.

We have no idea how much we are going to be charged from next October for our water usage, though a figure of €350 per year per average household is now being universally touted as the bill we should expect.

Even if this is an accurate projection, no one knows that the free allocation will be (if any) or even what the flat charge will be for the majority of households that will still not be metered by next October or even the automatic standing charge that every household will be billed. Irish Water say we will know these rates by next August

But this shouldn’t stop anyone from working out a home water conservation plan right now. By intentionally using less water from today, by actively seeking out leaks (Irish Water may or may not subsidise or refund repair costs and will announce those details eventually) before billing starts and by adopting better water use habits, you should be able to keep ahead of the inevitable rising costs.

There are myriad practical ways to use less water – see the list below – and some are easier to put into practice than others (just ask any parent trying to cut their electricity bill what the overall success rate has been in trying to get their kids to turn off lights and TV’s, not in use, plug out electronic goods, etc).

But every small effort and gesture to conserve energy or a commodity like water adds up and will help you control the costs that are in your control.

If, like me, you think harnessing free water – rain – might be a good idea, and especially for non-drinking such as for toilets, washing-machines and outdoor garden use, then it might be worth checking out whether it is feasibility or affordable.

One company that recently came to my attention is Co Carlow based Waterways Environmental (www.waterwaysenvironmental.com. ) . Set up in 2011, it harvests rainwater in domestic as well as public and commercial buildings that would otherwise disappear down your house gutters and disappear into the ground. Using shallow underground or overground tanks/filters and pumps the rainwater is pumped back into your house and can reduce dependence on mains water by 50%- 100%. The installation cost, according to director Paul Casey will range from about €1,200 to €2,000 for a typical family home. Depending on how much water your family uses, the payback will be from around three to seven years.

Most of us won’t or can’t afford that much expense to reduce our water bills, but there is still plenty of things that we can all do to keep costs down. Here are just a few:

- Use garden rainwater butts for the garden plants and car washing.

- Use lower use eco-settings for dishwashers and washing machines.

- Set a strict time-limit for showers. Don’t overfill the bath.

- Always use basins in kitchen sinks to catch the running tap.

- Put a brick in the toilet tank to displace some water. Use wastebaskets for used nose tissues.

- Encourage everyone to drink water from (filtered) bottles of tap water you keep in the fridge.

- Only fill kettles to match the number of cups of tea/coffee being drunk. (Chances are left-over ‘stale’ water will be dumped.)

- Only rinse plastic containers for recycling with kitchen basin or garden butt water.

- Always use plugs in bathroom sinks when handwashing and in kitchen sinks for washing vegetables, etc.

- If you suspect there’s a leak in your pipes, get it checked and fixed. You may have to speak to neighbours about communal underground pipes. Leaks will cause your water bill to soar.