Northern Ireland (NI) Water has warned about the critical state of the utility and says the company is “sinking” due to “chronic underfunding”.
It adds Northern Ireland will face further restrictions on economic growth and more damage to the natural environmental unless additional capital investment is provided.
The utility warns the country’s failing wastewater infrastructure is unable to take new connections from new homes and businesses in major parts of cities and more than 100 towns, leading to inadequate environmental protection through increased sewer flooding and pollution.
Chief Executive Sara Venning says more than £2 billion is required in its next business plan period (2021 – 2027), including £500 million for the Living with Water Programme, to address strategic drainage in Belfast.
She adds: “Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK where the water utility is not funded to the levels required by its independent regulator. The impacts of underfunding are not something we can allocate to future discussions, they are happening now and are undermining our resilience to the challenges brought by the climate emergency and a growing population. The scale of the problem currently facing NI Water requires major, inescapable investment.
“Failure to find a solution will lead to a funding crisis with widespread detrimental impacts for our local economy and natural environment; a case we know that the Infrastructure Minister continues to make to the Executive. However, the solution cannot come from one government department; this is a health, economic and environmental crisis, which is impacting on all of society. The Northern Ireland Executive’s committed policy is to continue to subsidise domestic water and sewerage services through public expenditure until 2022.
“However, continued shortfalls in public expenditure funding have resulted in the crisis we have today, with 25 of the 27 economic hubs, identified by local councils for growth in the future, being restricted in building houses, schools, office buildings and factories. The underinvestment is also leading to inadequate environmental protection. It’s time to provide the investment that is needed.”
NI Water provides 585 million litres of drinking water and recycles 355 million litres of wastewater back to the natural environment every day, costing around £460 million every year to deliver water services in Northern Ireland.