Water chaos affects thousands in Northern Ireland

Thousands of homes and businesses in Northern Ireland are still without water, some since before Christmas.

Northern Ireland Water said an unprecedented number of leaks caused by the thaw have been putting “big pressure” on its systems.

It has warned the drought could last for several more days.

Belfast City Council has opened three leisure centres to distribute drinking water, and free showers will be available on Wednesday.

Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy said on Tuesday night: “There will be a stocktake meeting in the morning at NI Water to consider the on-going operations in relation to disruption to water supplies throughout the north caused by burst pipes.

“I have spoken to my counterpart in Scotland, Keith Brown MSP, to thank the Scottish Executive for their offer of bottled water if required and this will be considered at the stocktake tomorrow.”

NI Water said it was alternating supplies from reservoirs in a bid to give every area a limited supply, causing more interruptions.

Many people have complained about not being able to get through to a helpline (08457 440088).

Among the worst hit areas are Belfast, Armagh and Coleraine.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said it was not good enough that some people had been left without water for so long.

He said: “Obviously under the terms of the Financial Act that we put in place some time last year, the most vulnerable in our society – those that have been most badly affected by all of this – will have the right to make claims.

“There will be a willingness on behalf of the Executive to ensure that the most deserving cases are supported financially.”

Belfast City Council is operating an emergency operation to help those without water.

Drinking water will be available from tankers at three council sites: Avoniel Leisure Centre; Whiterock Leisure Centre and Olympia Leisure Centre from 0900GMT on Wednesday.

It is limited to 20 litres per household and people must bring their own containers.

Drinking water will also be available from a tanker in the north of the city at the NI Water depot on Westland Road.

All Belfast City Council leisure centres will be open on Wednesday and, subject to water supplies, will provide free shower facilities.

Coleraine Leisure Centre will be open until 2200 GMT on Wednesday for shower facilities and anyone taking containers can have them filled with drinking water.
‘Drought situation’

Ruth Loney, who owns a small farm in Armagh, said it was “a drought situation”.

“There are elderly people in Armagh today carrying buckets of water and they are having extreme difficulty along the streets.

“There is also water pouring out of commercial premises and nobody realises that their business has burst pipes,” he said.

Tiago Menezes said his Belfast street had been without water for six days.

“After six days, it’s starting to be a public health issue when you can’t even flush the toilet,” he said.

People seeking information about their water supply have complained to the BBC that it was almost impossible to get through to NI Water’s phoneline.

Worried farmers have been among dozens of people contacting the BBC about their water supply problems.

Customers are asked to check the NI Water website for updates.

SDLP Regional Development spokesperson, Conall McDevitt described the communications system at NI Water as “inadequate and shambolic”.

On Tuesday afternoon, NI Water said: “We would strongly urge all customers and property owners to check their premises, including vacant buildings, outbuildings and animal drinking troughs for any leaks and arrange for them to be isolated immediately and repaired as soon as possible.

“We are noticing that the majority of the leaks in the water system are currently on the customers’ private water supply side.

“NI Water is currently inputting an additional 40% of water into our supply network to meet the unprecedented demand being experienced.

“We would also ask customers to conserve their use of water during this period of disruption in order to allow us to fully recharge our water network.” – BBC