Ireland to Charge for Water for the First Time

Ireland's River Dodder is part of the lush ecosystem of the Emerald Isle. Photo by William Murphy, Flickr, Creative Commons


If you’re one of the 4.5 million people who live in Ireland, you pay no water bill.

Municipal water is free, no matter how much you use. And no one knows how much you use — not even you.

Ireland has no water meters and no water bills.

In fact, Ireland is the only country in Europe with no water meters. Indeed, Hanoi has water meters, and Mexico City and Delhi. Just not Dublin.

Without any data on consumption, without any pricing, there’s also no economics of water use in Ireland.

For those who think charging for water has no impact on how people use and manage it, two facts leap out from a just-released Irish government report on water:

• Per person water use in Ireland is about 37,000 gallons a year — between two and three times the average for the rest of Europe. (Per person water use in Ireland is almost identical to that in the U.S. — but the U.S. has one of the highest per person water use rates in the world.)

• Irish water utilities leak an astonishing 41 percent of the water they pump before the water reaches any customer, more than twice the leak rate in the U.K. or the U.S.

But water meters are coming to Ireland, along with water charges, quickly. And although there will undoubtedly be raucous protests from people who have never seen a water bill, the arrival of water meters and water bills is a good thing.

Understanding how much water you use, and paying for it, even a small amount, is critical to having a healthy water system and a healthy water economy.

The purpose of Ireland’s January report was to propose a radical makeover of the country’s water system, a makeover that is long overdue.

“Our current model of water provision, where unlimited quantities of an expensive product are provided at no charge, is simply not sustainable,” says the report.

“We have an abundance of water,” says Phil Hogan, the Irish environment minister pushing the program forward, “but we often take it for granted, and we need to protect it. We have no consumer protection, no economic regulation, and we have too much unaccounted for water.”

Hogan, in fact, is selling the water metering in part as a jobs program. Installing water meters nationwide should create 2,000 jobs, he says. And he expects installation of 1 million meters to begin this fall, and be fininshed in 2014.

The water meters and water bills — rates have yet to be announced — are part of a larger plan to create a single national water utility, Irish Water, consolidating the facilities and responsibilities of 34 local utilities.

You can’t have smart water use without knowing how much water you use, of course. The Irish report says Denmark saw a 13 percent decrease in household water use between 1996 and 2007, as water meters were installed and water was billed based on use.

While Ireland being completely free of water meters is an extreme example, there are surprising pockets of unmetered water, the legacy of an era when providing free water was regarded as a routine city responsibility.

Thames Water, the London water utility, charges everyone for water, but more than 70 percent of Londoners have no water meters and pay a flat rate. The largest apartment complex in New York City, Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town, with 11,232 apartments, also has no water meters for residents.

Part of Ireland’s water culture, of course, is abundance. And the report does pause to appreciate Ireland’s legendary lushness, in economic if not poetic terms.

“Ireland’s rich water resources will become of increasing strategic importance to the Irish economy as the value of water increases globally. … Ireland needs to exploit its competitive advantages and to attract more water intensive industries, and to explore all opportunities for using our water resources in a sustainable way to support economic growth and competitiveness.”

And those newcomers will get water meters. No charge.

Charles Fishman is an award-winning investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling author who has spent the last four years traveling the world to understand and explain water issues. He is the author of The Big Thirst.

Charles Fishman is an award-winning investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling author who has spent the last four years traveling the world to understand and explain water issues. His recently released book about water, "The Big Thirst," has been widely praised by sources as varied as The Washington Post and the science journal Nature for its captivating storytelling and its incisive explanation of water, water issues, and our rapidly changing relationship to water. Fishman continues to report, write and speak about water issues. Contact him at: cnfish@mindspring.com
  • Patrick Murphy

    Ugh. Note that loss figure. We don’t need to charge for water in Ireland. It’s silly. We get metres of rain a year, literally. In a sane world, we’d just stop letting nearly half of our clean drinking water escape from antiquated pipes. We could replace the whole lot for a tiny fraction of the sum Ireland is now paying from public funds to already-filthy-rich plutocrats (the situation is deeply misrepresented in the media, essentially the irish taxpayer is bailing out german capitalists. Privatise profits and socialise losses, it’s the corporatist scumbag way…). So now they want some more not-very-stealthy stealth taxes.

    • The leak rate is appalling. But there’s certainly some connection between the condition of the water system and the lack of charges: no revenue for maintenance or modernization.

  • mmcg968

    Ireland is bankrupt and the EU strangles the country by imposing austerity measures in order to try and recover some of the bail out money. This means reducing services and increasing taxation and charging for water is really just the start.

    Either get used to being a serf state of EUSSR or get out.

  • […] has no water meters and no water bills. In fact, Ireland is the only country…   Original post on nationalgeographic.com →   Comments on digg.com →   Related PostsOn the horrors of getting approval […]

  • Dave

    Who is paying this lad to write this propaganda for the Government? There is no figures. Then I use 37000 litres. Ridiculous! Sound bites with no logic. Fallacious arguments! And the price of water world wide and it’s use has nothing to do with what flows into our house. More water comes into your house in your shopping bag and that’s a fact. Do some research and proper journalism instead of this puppetry!

  • Patrick Murphy

    Nah, see you still think money collected would be actually be used for repair and upkeep of the water system. That’s extremely naive. Until there’s some “regime change”, water metering will just be throwing good money after bad. They won’t drop taxes to account for the fact the water services would be billed, I assure you. We’ll just end up paying even more.

  • Michael Doles

    I think the people of Ireland don’t have a major issue with paying for water consumption per se but there is a well founded fear that this is just another tax. We are to be subjected to another bill for a service that wont exist with continually rising prices to gather more income.

  • Rich

    interesting news, and even more interesting comments!

    how the Irish government handle this issue will be very revealing of their true priorities. If the aim is to make peole more aware and accountable for the water they use, water users will billed for the water they consume, and no more. And any new water-heavy businesses attracted to Ireland would in effect subsidise the water bills of the common man, as well the other benefits such as employment and trade.

    If on the other hand, water billing is being looked at as a new source of revenue – be it for upgrading aging pipes, for huge management salaries, or for German industry via the EU – then brace yourself Ireland for the astronomical rates that we in the UK are subject to.

  • Kevin Hamill

    This is a load of crap, we have water meters for at least the last 15 years and have being paying for water every year except last year, maybe a good idea to do some research

  • […] http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/02/10/ireland-charge-for-water/ under: Uncategorized « Welcome to The Thinking Journal! […]

  • laura

    “In fact, Ireland is the only country in Europe with no water meters. Indeed, Hanoi has water meters, and Mexico City and Delhi. Just not Dublin.”

    um, none of those cities are actually in Europe….

  • […] FULL STORY HERE […]

  • Andyvon

    Water meters are bad news for consumers. When I lived in Grimsby in the UK everyone had water meters fitted – and my bill doubled, despite the fact I lived alone and I really cut down on my use. The bills of many families I knew trebled or quadrupled despite many families only flushing the toilet twice a day and only using the washing machine once every two weeks! So many families were wondering how they could pay the bill.

    Now I live in the Thames Water region near London my wife and I have no meter. We use as much water as we want and the bill is so low we don’t really notice it – I don’t even know what we pay off-hand!

    Water meters are great for authorities wanting to generate money as they charge whatever they like. That’s the trap the Irish will discover. Consumers will reduce their usage, and Irish Water will charge whatever they like and increase it year upon year! Consumers will have absolutely no say in the price per unit. Don’t let them do it to you Ireland!

  • Dave

    Sorry the whole premise of this article is about to fall down. I live in dublin and every single household in my area has a water meter outside it, installed about 5 years ago and well before the bust. They just haven’t turned them on yet!!!

  • Stoifan

    I see it as just a way to tax the average punter to try and get money for the state. To bad the average fella is having a hard time making ends meet as it is.
    I live in rural Ireland and my mains water is brutal. Water pressure is non-exsistent, the colour is brown, its all too common to have the water shut off because of leaks, and because the mains water hose to the village is the size of a garden hose it freezes easily.
    I paid into a scheme to improve the local water (new pipes etc). Nothing happened as they ran out of money. Now they want money for substandard service.

  • David Zetland

    R Ireland had “rates” based charges in the past (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_supply_and_sanitation_in_the_Republic_of_Ireland#History_since_1977), but they were removed as a political gift.

    The replacement of rates with metered charging in England/Wales has been controversial — for the reasons indicated above (big increase in charges, impact on poor, etc.), but the govt is pushing ahead.

    While its true that money is necessary for repairing the system, it’s also true that repairs will not happen without proper governance of the water sector AND direction of funds to waterworks (not general budget).

    Meters may not be the best soln (compared to rates) when water is not scarce from a cost-benefit perspective, but at least people understand what they are paying for (assuming that service improves!)

  • vincent

    I think its good to charge to avoid waste. Very few people conserve water, even something like having a water butt is unusual. People moaned when the “bag tax” was introduced, this charge of 15 cent per plastic bag has everyone using reusable bags. People moaned about the smoking ban in public places but we’re much better with it. Currently thousands of people in Dublin expect not to have to pay for refuse collection. Proves they don’t care about the environment but they might pay attention when it costs them.

  • Don Fredericks

    I agree with Patrick Murphy. By installing these meters, the capitalists are privatizing profits and socializing losses. But wait, there’s more: Consider for a moment the fact that these meters are tied to an address, your address. Consider further the fact that by linking a water meter, your water meter to their system(s) that they, in fact, will be more apt to pollute the water that is now distributed to you for free. Case-in-point: fluoridation of your water through that meter that can be tracked in many, if not all major United States cities which, when those meters were first installed in the United States, fluoridation of the public water supply was touted as a tooth-decay preventative when, in actual fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If they want to invoice me for the water I use, that’s fine, but I don’t want to be the next guinea pig in their experiments with industrial chemicals added to the water I drink, whether or not the meter has been installed, at the same time they’ll rosily lie to the public in stating that the water is safe-to-drink.

  • Niall

    MAJOR inaccuracies in this article, the majority of houses have water meters, and always have had. Urban areas were not charged for their water for years, but all rural homes were, and this billing was only stopped after protests over the city/county divide.I have several water bills from our county council, (from the 1980’s) charged through the water meter that has metered the water coming onto our farm for the last 32 years!

  • […] National Geographic (Charles […]

  • […] That may come as a surprise to you if you receive a monthly bill from your local water utility.  But the economists are technically correct.  In most places in the world, we pay only for the cost of delivering the water to our homes or businesses, i.e., the cost of electricity to push it through distribution pipes, clean out impurities, or to construct a reservoir to store water.  The water itself is free. (See Ireland’s shift to charge at least something for water.) […]

  • Jenna

    I don’t know what water metres people are talking about. I don’t have one as far as I know. And as for paying for water as somebody already mentioned – ehm, nobody who is not a company pays for any water unless they buy it bottled in a shop! I know someone who wastes litres of water washing the concrete ground in his garden for one or two hours a week. The water charges are the only feasible way abuse like this of a global resource can be stopped. Regardless of the government’s actual reason for imposing another tax, this is a tax which will make people more conscious of what they do as, unfortunately, hardly any Irish peron cares about the environment unless it is directly linked to his or her purse. That is the reality of selfish human nature.

  • mick

    We already pay for water through our income tax, where else does the 1.2billion to run the water come from, this is just another way of capitalistic opportunity to take more money from us, its bad enough that it rains nearly every day in this country now they want us to pay for it

  • MiniMe

    “Ireland to Charge for Water for the First Time” <– This statement is categorically INCORRECT!!

    Whilst there may not have been meters in every home, the people of Ireland paid Rates, which covered sanitation and water. Water 'rates' were abolished in favour of an extra income tax hike. That income tax hike is still in place so now we are paying for water TWICE. With the construction boom the quality of our water has deteriorated as our sources became too small to facilitate the ever increasing volume of houses so they moved our source leaving the water undrinkable and it is destroying every appliance it's used in, including showers, washing machine, etc. So now we are paying TWICE for a product with an unacceptable level of quality… but I don't see any of this in your article!

  • James

    Once again the government shows how far away they are from the common man, Whats next? a thought tax?

  • Chris

    It is and always has been a common practice here in the states to have a water meter attached to a home and pay for water usage. People who have wells obviously do not pay but a dry summer can be serious because the wells are filled with rain water. People who live in apartments don’t pay – it’s included as part of their rent each month.

  • clare o sullivan

    Hi, do people who live out in the rural areas have to pay the water charges in ireland

  • Greg Stevenson

    Water charges are just another spurious stealth tax on the beleaguered Irish public. Wage cuts, longer working hours and even hours of forced labour (slavery?) are now compounded by an opportunistic ‘water tax’. This is the final nail in the coffin of a failed state. Taxing an abundant renewable resource is the same as taxing fresh air (maybe that tax is being planned too!) It’s the proverbial ‘coals to Newcastle’ or ‘selling sand to the Arabs’. History tells us that our British ‘oppressors’ imposed a ‘daylight tax’ on the 19th Century Irish, resulting in windowless hovels, and some clever workarounds such as half doors. This bleeding of the subjugated populace may be expected during a hostile occupation, but not from an elected government albeit a terminally ill one in it’s death throes. The only obstacle to Ireland becoming a banana republic, is that we lack the nice weather. We do however have a suitable political climate.

  • gerard long

    well when i lived in ireland ,you couldent even drink the water..but now i pay for water that i cant drink,i have to buy drinking water…nothing is ever for free..

  • Anna Livia

    Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.
    The sea oh! the sea, is gra geal mo croi,
    long may it roll between brussel’s and me,
    it’s a sure guarrantee that some day we’ll be free,

  • dee

    I am irish and feel embarrassed that we do not have meters. It’s about time this was sorted. People pay for water in most civilised countries and have meters in place. However the Irish do not seem to want to pay for anything. Any new charges the government bring is met with petty refusal. Time the Irish got with reality and quit moaning. I look forward to more responsible use of water. Why can’t we just get on with it like grown ups! 🙂

  • Anna Livia

    Protest march against water charges tomorrow DUBLIN saturday 11th. at 2pm. Water CHARGES ANOTHER STEALTH TAX on the already overburdened Irish People. In the word’s of Ireland’s Greatest Hero, General Michael Collins.


  • Patrick Blood

    A note to the author of this article – the average Irish person does ‘not’ consume 37,000 “Gallons” (166,500 Liters) of water per year……more like 11,500 (51,000 Liters).

    Furthermore Irish Water, has based its ‘charges’ on the average use per person per year of about 35,000 Liters (as of Oct 2014).

    As regards 41% (UFW) Unaccounted For Water, I find that figure hard to justify owing to the fact that – since consumption of water has never been metered and no reliable records exist of total product output is recorded – how they come up with that figure is beyond me! It all makes for a compelling argument to rectify the whole system – whilst throwing hard earned public tax money into a massive ‘quango’ but with no real ‘proof’, as to do so in the first place!

  • Joseph O’Regan

    The plan is to privatise the water supply. We pay already for this service, THey can stick their meters where the sun don’t shine.

  • ffi

    I’m sorry but other residents in Europe pay water charges so what makes Ireland so different from the others? They have already had to be bailed out of a financial crisis due to the fact they give their money away like they give away water! It is about time and as for those moaning nothing in life is free so suck it up and get over it stop expecting handouts!

  • Thomas

    I find it insulting when I hear people from other countries saying that irish people should suck it up, those people in the uk don’t pay anything like what the Irish pay anything like the huge amount of direct taxation that the Irish have to pay, its well over 50%, either way it doesn’t matter, the revolution has started now and the government will be gone soon, they will either call a new election volutarilly or they will be removed by force.

  • jojnjo

    This article needs to be put into the dustbin as there are leaks right through it. Secondly, the Irish people will put the present government Coalition (FineGael/Labour) into the dustbin come the next election. & thirdly, the Irish people will gladly put Irish Water & it’s quangos into the dustbin before (even) they put the Coalition in the dustbin. But at the end of the day, all three will be “Dustbinised”!

    PS. That’s my new word for 2015 “Dustbinised”!

  • Iásóne Ó Brádaigh

    This article is quite ridiclous,It says “Ireland has no data on consumption of its waters as its not metred or priced and theres no economics of water use in Ireland so basically again “without any data on consumption” how the #&^@ does the article writer know that “per person water use in Ireland is about 37,000 gallons a year, between two and three times the average for the rest of Europe. (Per person water use in Ireland is almost identical to that in the U.S. — but the U.S. has one of the highest per person water use rates in the world.) Seriously how could any intelligent writer write such a thing.

  • Padraic Connolly

    To say we don’t pay means Charles Fishman you don’t know a lot about our water . We €1.2 billion a year through general taxation and we all know where Irish Water will end up in the hands of some greedy multi national companies when they will privatizes it. Then we ill be paying thousands and they won’t care about poor Irish people who will struggle to pay and our water will be exported around the world like they done in other country .So before you write rubbish about something else get your facts right .May I suggest you talk about fishing as your name is Fishman maybe some idiot might listen to you because of your name .

  • Jordan

    Absolutely untrue to say no meters of water bills. Commercial properties (eg B&B, farms etc) have had metered water & have received & paid bills for at least 10 years. Awful article.

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