Irish Water discards guidance on cast iron meter housing

Utility says department’s guidelines ‘not binding’ for them and intended for builders

Workers install water meters in houses in the Fortlawn Estate near Blanchardstown, west Dublin. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Workers install water meters in houses in the Fortlawn Estate near Blanchardstown, west Dublin. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Irish Water has acknowledged installing plastic water meter boxes in place of cast iron boxes which are specified for use in driveways where cars may park on the lids of the meter housing.

The utility said it chose to disregard the Department of Environment guidance on water meter housing which specified a typically cast iron water meter box in places where a heavy load such as a car might park on the meter housing.

Head of asset management at Irish Water Jerry Grant told TDs and Senators 645,000 water meters had been installed since the current programme began and just 14 had been reported broken. In fact, he said, just 500 of the installed boxes were the specified ’grade B’, typically cast iron, boxes.

The overwhelming majority were ’grade C’ boxes made of plastic, which he said were perfectly safe and sturdy.

Mr Grant said the Department of Environment guidance was intended for builders and local authorities and was “not binding on Irish Water”.

He said tests carried out by the contractors employed by Irish Water had shown that the plastic boxes more than met the strength required to withstand the weight of a car.

He told the politicians at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions that a particular test was carried out in which a stone was placed on a plastic lid and a vehicle manoeuvred so that its wheel was on top of the stone. Mr Grant said the plastic lid did not crack but the test had to be abandoned for fear that the vehicle’s tyre “would explode”.

A Department of Environment spokesman confirmed that the specification did not carry the force of law, and was provided for guidance only.

Mr Grant said a company such as Irish Water with strong engineering capability could carry out its own analysis and tests and chose a preferred option other then that which was specified in guidelines.

However, Michael Healy-Rae TD produced two examples of the meter housing, a cast iron type B, and a plastic type C.

Plain to see

He said it was plain to see that that type B was stronger than type C. The cast iron boxes would not break, and it was equally plain to see the plastic boxes would break, he said.

Mr Healy-Rae also said it was the case that the radio signal which allowed the meters to be read from a passing van, could not penetrate the cast iron and he suggested this was a factor in Irish Water’s thinking.

Mr Healy-Rae TD also took issue with Irish Water’s contention that just 14 meter boxes had been reported broken, and many of these had related to issues of workmanship on installation. “Do you really believe that yourselves,” he asked.

Irish Water said the signal would pass through a cast iron cover, “the question would be what distance could the signal travel”.

Noel Harrington TD complained the plastic boxes and covers were made in Wales while a supplier of cast iron products from Co Offaly was prevented from securing the business.

At this point chairman of the committee Pádraig MacLochlainn TD ruled that all reference to the tendering for the meter boxes was out of order, as a legal case was being taken in relation to such matters. “It is subject to a court process,” he said.

Mr MacLochlainn said it was questionable that local authorities would have been expected to comply with guidance from the Department of Environment, but that Irish Water could be exempt.

He said members could submit more questions to Irish Water which the utility would consider over the course of the next week, reverting to the committee with answers.

Original Article Irish Times Wed 23 Sept, 2015