Cappagh Group Water Scheme – A Brief History
Cappagh GWS supplies very high quality potable water to 199 houses, 43 farms, school, crèche, 2x churches, hall, handball court, graveyard, marina and county council premises. All work done has been voluntary down through the years. This helped keep costs down and charges to members at a modest level.
The scheme started with a vision of Muintir na Tire in the mid-1960s to supply all houses with piped water. Rural Ireland was badly served by amenities like water on tap and any type of indoor plumbing at that time. Indeed, many of us remember drawing water in buckets and tankards from the nearest well – a job every young person detested, but had to be done. Muintir na Tire was very farsighted and innovative in their thinking at the time because most group water schemes around the country did not start until the early to mid-seventies. So there was very little to model on or draw inspiration or knowledge from.
In 1964 a sub-committee of Muintir na Tire was set up to discuss the feasibility of the scheme with various contractors, costs involved and routing of pipework, etc. The trustees were Paddy Cregan, Jack Shorten and Eugene O’Sullivan. Between 1963 and 1977 a total of £13,896.41 was spent on the scheme to get water to the extremities of the scheme. Of that figure £3,265.50 was contributed by the members with the remainder paid through direct and supplementary grants. A few nuggets from the accounts of that time show that:
Dept of Local Government grant of £1,260
Limerick Co Council grant of £780
Loan from Muintir na Tire Guild of £300
Trench digging, laying pipes & back filling cost £2,466
Reservoirs x2 built by Teskeys for £988
Lenihan well drilling was paid £1,146
Pumphouses built by Tom & Michael Hogan for £291
Insurance M. J. O’Shaughnessy, Askeaton cost £60.
In June 1986, Shay Murtagh Ltd erected a new 15,000 gallon reservoir in Moss Collins’ field at a cost of £7,150. At the same time PJ Dore installed a 3/4hp submersible pump with all associated equipment for £1,572.
In the early 80s, due to a lot of house building in the parish, a huge strain was put on the existing infrastructure. The lack of proper investment by county council and members alike was beginning to show. After much consideration it was decided that a new well was required at the southern end of the scheme. With the kind permission of Brian Ruttle a well was divined in Rosemount by Ned Prendiville. The new well at Rosemount was brought into service in 1986 with PJ Dore installing a 3hp pump at a cost of £2,943. A couple of years before Rosemount was commissioned, a new committee, separate from its parent, was elected with the good wishes of Muintir na Tire. This committee included Bart Collins, Tom O’Keeffe, Padraig Feehan, Brian Ruttle and Tony Prendiville in addition to Paddy Cregan and Eugene O’Sullivan. One of the first thing done was to register the scheme as a Co-op with ICOS. This put the scheme on a business footing, with the proper structures and financing to run as a business. During this time PJ Dore, Kilcornan, was appointed to maintain the pumping and chlorine dosing equipment in the pump houses. Over the coming years a lot of money was raised to repair leaks, update pumping plant, extend the scheme, connect additional houses and most importantly pay all the bills as they came in. The accounts show that between April 1983 and June 1988 an operational profit of £48 was made.
A bigger challenge awaited us when Brendan Howlin TD Minister for Environment announced that water charges were to be abolished from 1st January 1997. This was totally at variance with our charging model and would have crippled the scheme if imposed on us. However, a large number of private GWS, including ourselves, with Dr Gerry Crowley from Mulranny Co. Mayo chairing, formed the National Federation of Group Water Schemes in the hotel in Knock Co. Mayo. Negotiations and public awareness campaigns followed resulting in some of the operational costs for all group schemes being funded by the Department of the Environment through the County Councils. This took some of the funding pressure off as we could now charge for water in the usual manner and get most of our expenses refunded. This allowed us to invest more in the scheme and at the same time save a little for the rainy day.
The federation grew from its very humble beginning to being in partnership with the department in the delivery of water to rural Ireland. The department tried many innovative ways to improve water quality, processes, source protection methods and group management and training structures over the years. At this time Ireland was under threat from the European Court of Justice with massive fines to improve the quality of drinking water and bring it in line with European standards. The most successful initiative was to develop a partnership with Private Enterprise, local authorities, Department of the Environment and group water schemes in a Design, Build and Operate model (DBO). This would give the operators the right to design and build a proper pumping station, and then operate this pumping station for 20 years, guaranteeing quality water delivered to our reservoirs 24/7. This water could then be delivered by the scheme operators to their members. In conjunction with 18 other schemes in Limerick, Cappagh GWS joined the Limerick DBO scheme. However, this then showed up the deficiency of scheme pipework both in terms of capacity to deliver, leakage and maintenance. The federation negotiated a deal whereby if schemes could show that they had deficient pipework, funding to a certain limit per household, would be made available to do the required upgrade. In our case we made a business case for a complete overlay, bring the pipework to the roadside and install meters on every connection. Accordingly, between 2003 and 2007 just over €2m was spent on the scheme. A new 100,000 gallon (454,000 litres) reservoir was erected replacing the original 10,000 gallon tank, about 20km of 100mm and 150mm pipework installed, district and consumer meters installed and pump-house sites were purchased. All this was done through grant aid from Limerick Co. Council, a loan of €350,000 from Cois Sionna Credit Union and normal annual levies from our members. This work has future proofed the scheme, but like everything else, nothing is constant.
What does the future hold? The funding model is under pressure until the future of Irish Water is known. The only thing that is known is that costs will rise steeply if politicians get their way. Day to day operations is becoming extremely onerous through record keeping, testing, money collecting and general management, legal and governance obligations. Accordingly, the scheme is in negotiations with Croagh and Killeedy GWSs to merge at a management level and employ a manager over the 3 schemes. This is a new challenge and is in a pilot phase, but like others will be worked through and overcome.
The operation of the scheme in a viable manner is the only guarantee that the community has access to relatively cheap, quality water under community control. If the Irish Waters of this world get their hands on it charges will be multiples of what it is currently.
Remember Cappagh Group Water Scheme is run on a voluntary basis for the community and its members and its only remit is to deliver a quality and potable water supply to its members in sufficient quantity for their needs at a reasonable cost.
Many people have contributed to the success of the scheme over the years. Our thanks go to the following for all their work and help; it is much appreciated:
Deceased: Padraig Feehan, Thomas O’Keeffe, Jack Shorten, Eugene O’Sullivan, Paddy Cregan, Tom Murphy, Patrick Cahill Snr, Ger Dineen & Peter O’Grady. May they Rest in Peace.
Past Board Members & Helpers: Bart Collins, Ger Histon, Jim O’Riordan, Seamus Giltinane, Frank Hayes, Bart Flavin, Arthur Gilliard, Jim McDonald, Ollie Hartnett, Pat Stokes, Sean O’Grady, Liam Boyce, Patsy Madigan.
All landowners who allowed pipework through their land.
Current Board of Directors is:
Chairman: Brian Ruttle
Secretary: Caroline Tomlin
Treasurer: Tony Prendiville
Members: Thomas O’Donovan, Mike Ryan, John Walsh, Mike Sheehan, James Foley, Brian Jordan and Seamus Heffernan.
Article submitted by Tony Prendiville