DUBLIN, Ireland, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The utility Irish Water has issued a tender for its first infrastructure project -- a $685 million effort to supply Dublin with water from the River Shannon.
The quasi-public company was started last year as a subsidiary of Bord Gais Eireann to improve and coordinate the notoriously inefficient operations of water services in Ireland, which had been under the jurisdiction of 34 local authorities.
Its first two projects include installing water meters in Irish homes and businesses for the first time and to establish a "secure and sustainable water source" for Dublin, which last year was hit by supply cut-offs due to problems at the country's biggest treatment plant.
Irish Water announced Monday it had officially begun work on the Dublin Water Supply project by issuing tenders for a "survey specialist" to perform a water quality survey of Lough Derg along the River Shannon -- the second-largest lake in Ireland -- after taking over the project from Dublin city officials.
The water project is "urgently required," the utility said in its tender.
"The need for a long term additional secure and sustainable water source for Dublin was identified as far back as 1996 and is now a priority for Irish Water to deliver," it said. "Irish Water has taken over the management of the project and the resources are being put in place to deliver the project by 2020."
The project envisions the delivery of up to 66 million gallons of water per day to the capital in a first phase to be completed by 2020 and and 92 million gallons by 2035 through one of several options currently being studied.
The utility says it is carrying out environmental, technical and economic impact assessments of each of the potential solutions, with a preferred alternative to be delivered later this year. After that, the plan is to be further developed with a goal of submitting if to the Irish planning authority An Bord Pleanala before the end of 2015.
Irish Water's timetable envisions a three-year approval process by planners, two more years for design and procurement, budget approvals and contract signings, followed by three years of construction.
Opponents say the costly effort wouldn't be necessary if Dublin repaired its leaking pipes while environmentalists warned it could devastate the Shannon region's ecology.
"If Dublin could fix its leaks and look at water sources nearer to home it wouldn't be necessary to draw water from the Shannon," Jack O'Sullivan, chief executive of consultants Environmental Management Services, told the Evening Herald.
"Demand for water will fall instead of rise when metering comes in and people conserve more water. And that, combined with fixing the leaks and drawing water from an underground aquifer that runs through Meath would serve Dublin's supply."
The issuing of the first tender comes four months after the taps in 600,000 homes in and around the city were shut off due to malfunctions at the Ballymore Eustace water treatment plant in County Kildare, affecting 1.5 million residents.
The situation caused embarrassment for the city as it hosted 10,000 visitors for the worldwide Web Summit, a gathering of some of the world's leading high-tech company founders, investors, start-ups and firms at more than 60 events organized across the city.
Irish hotel and restaurant owners said the water rationing dealt a harsh blow to their businesses during the event.