Northern Ireland Water
Northern Ireland Water Limited (Irish: Uisce Thuaisceart Éireann; Ulster-Scots: Norlin Airlan Wattèr) is a water company in Northern Ireland. Formerly an executive agency (the Northern Ireland Water Service) within Northern Ireland's Department for Regional Development, it became a government-owned company on 1 April 2007. The company provides 625 million litres of clean water a day for almost 1.7 million people as well as treating 134 million m3 of wastewater every year, and has approximately 1,400 staff. It is responsible for 26,500 km of watermains and 14,500 km of sewerage mains, as well as 47 water treatment works and 918 wastewater treatment works.
Prior to 1973, water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland outside Belfast were the responsibility of local councils. Within the capital, the Belfast Water Commissioners were responsible. The Water Commissioners' building in the city centre is a landmark, currently occupied by retailer Marks and Spencer.
In 1973, responsibility for providing these services was transferred to Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland). Within the Department, a new Water Executive was responsible for the management and administration of water and sewerage services. In 1996, the Water Executive became an executive agency and was rebranded as the Northern Ireland Water Service and, in 1999, responsibility for water transferred to the Department for Regional Development.
In 2005, the Water Service had an annual budget of £302 million and fixed assets of £4.9 billion.
2010-2011 water shortages
In late December 2010, Northern Ireland Water blamed historic underinvestment and a rapid thaw, after a period of snow and record low temperatures, for causing an unprecedented number of burst pipes in the system, which left around 56,000 households in around 80 towns and villages without water — some for up to 12 days. It later transpired that over 80% of the water loss was due to leakage on the consumer network and not the N.I Water network as was previously thought.
The situation received significant attention in the United Kingdom press, and the Northern Ireland Assembly had to seek assistance from the Scottish Government to provide around 160,000 litres of bottled water over the New Year period. During the shortage, Northern Ireland Water pumped an additional 250 million litres of water per day into the system, most of which was lost through leaks. This was an increase of 40%, bringing the total daily output to 850 million litres of water per day.
Northern Ireland Water's interim chairman, Padraic White, described the company's response to the crisis as unsatisfactory, "particularly in terms of conveying information to people". Laurence MacKenzie, Northern Ireland Water's chief executive, resigned on 5 January 2011 following criticism of his handling of the crisis.
The announcement of the establishment of a state-owned company was made by Minister of State John Spellar in August 2004 to much public criticism. The main reason for this is the proposed introduction of water charges for domestic consumers. A widespread public campaign to stop the introduction of the charges ensued, with the organisers claiming that Northern Ireland's water services are already being paid for through the rates system. The government countered with the assertion that Northern Ireland pays less per person in rates than people in England, Scotland and Wales do for their combined council tax and water charges, and that the extra investment is also needed to upgrade Northern Ireland's water infrastructure, particularly its mainly Victorian-era sewers. Nevertheless water charges have yet to be introduced for residential consumers and it is unclear if and when they will be.
The changes resulted in the loss of civil servant status for Water Service employees and a number of job losses. The agency's debt recovery function was outsourced in October 2006 to the Echo Managed Services company.
Major reservoirs and treatment works