Patricia Feehily: Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink

How has Fair City run out of water? Patricia thinks that the recent water shortage in Dublin could have major implications for the Shannon river
THIS isn’t a very elegant way of putting it, I know, but I smell a rat in the Dublin water crisis. Not in the water, mind you, but in the crisis itself, but then, maybe I’m just 

THIS isn’t a very elegant way of putting it, I know, but I smell a rat in the Dublin water crisis. Not in the water, mind you, but in the crisis itself, but then, maybe I’m just 

The minute I heard that water restrictions were being imposed in the greater Dublin area in the middle of the rainy season - not to talk of the prestigious international web conference being held in the RDS – alarm bells started ringing in my head. Time to bring down the pike from the rafters and defend the Shannon, I thought.

My suspicions were confirmed (in my own head anyway) when senior Dublin Corporation engineers started spouting gobbledy gook about mysterious shape and consistency changing chemicals in the water. When they failed to come up with a rational explanation for the shortage, my suspicions became certainties. Look, I don’t know anything about the chemistry of water, but as far as I’m concerned the last time that water changed its shape and consistency was when Christ walked the waters of Galilee.

“It’s a ploy,” I said to myself, “to undermine opposition to the controversial €500 million plan to extract drinking water from the river Shannon for the next 70 years and pipe it to the capital.” Brian Boru will be turning in his grave! Clontarf has been reversed.

But the neighbours, who live on the banks of the same Shannon, dismissed my ravings, and told me not to be absurd. One of them said that there was enough water in the Shannon for everyone and she had no problem sharing it. Her daughter who lives in Dublin 4 had to go to work that morning without a shower, and when she came home that night she had neither water nor electricity. The woman was trying to get me to empathise with the plight of ordinary Dubliners, but I was having none of it. “Before we know it,” I said ominously, “the Shannon will be flowing through Dublin and we’ll be left with an empty canyon on our doorsteps. Look what they did to 
Shannon Airport.”

Now I’m naturally suspicious at the best of times, but in this climate I’m particularly jumpy. Of course, I could be completely wrong, and it wouldn’t be the first time my imagination ran away with me, but I feel that I must be forever on my guard against spin. Putting two and two together, I nearly always get four, which for me is quite an achievement being averse as I am to project maths. Now it’s not working. Just three days into the crisis, Dublin Corporation engineers started warning consumers in the capital that they might have to endure a decade of water shortages if the delay in getting the Shannon water extraction plan into operation, wasn’t overcome. Hearing that, I immediately put two and two together and I’m not sure what I got.

As I write, the latest news is that they are bringing in chemical experts from England to help solve the mystery of the water. This is setting off more alarm bells for me. Whatever was in the water in Dublin, it certainly wasn’t the salmon of knowledge that caused the problem. We’re supposed to have the best education system in the world, with the possible exception of Finland, but every time we encounter a complex problem we have to enlist expertise from England. What are they being taught in our myriad science 
courses here?

Meanwhile, many sound reasons are being put forward by local protection groups in support of their campaign against the plan to take 350 million litres of water a day from the lordly Shannon and pipe it to the capital. My own reasons for opposing it are a bit far fetched, and have to do with my experience of temperamental wells and their spiritual aspects. I knew of a spring well once that disappeared altogether when someone simply disrespected it. You wouldn’t know what the Shannon pot would do up there in the Cuilcagh mountains if they persist with the plan to drain its waters into Dublin.

I know we can’t have a capital city that doesn’t have an adequate water supply. It makes us look bad in the eyes of the developed world. But surely there are enough water sources in the Dublin area that can be tapped without having to ravage the majestic Shannon. With all the rain that has fallen in the past couple of weeks, they could have harvested enough water from the roofs to keep the reservoir topped up. In the short term, they might fix their leaking pipes and in the long term they should look at desalinating the inexhaustible supply of sea water on their doorstep.

Better still, the Government could consider making Limerick - where the Shannon is at its most voluminous and where its journey is almost over - the new capital of the country. Such a radical move would not only save our blushes over inexplicable water shortages, but it might even vindicate Clontarf.