ONE OF the options being considered in a major study of Dublin's water supply would involve taking water from the Shannon when the river is in flood and piping it to a large reservoir in the midlands.
Consultants RPS Veolia are looking at the possibility of taking water from Lough Ree and Lough Derg in winter and storing it in a reservoir on cutaway bog near Rochfortbridge, Co Westmeath, from where it would be piped to Dublin.
This may emerge as the "preferred option" in the study - due to be completed before the end of 2009 - as it would overcome fears that the Shannon lakes would be "drained" if the water was simply piped to Dublin directly.
Last month, objectors from the Shannon catchment area marched to Leinster House to protest against proposals by Dublin City Council to abstract 350 million litres of water a day from the river's two largest lakes to serve consumers in the capital.
The march was organised by the Shannon Protection Alliance, a coalition of objectors from the catchment area set up in April 2007 after the city council identified Lough Ree as the most likely source from which Dublin would need to draw extra water.
The council's water engineers believe that the capital will require such a new source by 2015 to cater for its growing population.
However, the alliance is adamant that the plan to take it from the Shannon would be an "ecological disaster".
There are also fears locally, particularly around Lough Ree, that water levels in the lake would fall drastically, damaging its principal money-spinner - leisure boating on the Shannon. The Shannon Regional Fisheries Organisation also opposes the plan.
However, Dublin City Council has maintained it would only draw off 2 per cent of the volume of water in the river in any year. If this could be confined to the times of year when the Shannon is in flood, the environmental impact would be less.
The direct piping of water from Lough Ree to Dublin was provisionally costed at €550 million- €600 million. No estimate is available for the additional cost of building a large reservoir in the midlands, though this is likely to be substantial.
Domestic water use in Ireland, at 160 litres per capita a day is among the highest in Europe. Economists have attributed this to the absence of tariffs based on consumption. Water charges were abolished in 1997.
With 83 per cent of drinking water coming from surface water, Minister for the Environment John Gormley has said that water shortages "will be a key issue that Ireland will have to grapple with in the future", mainly because of the impacts of climate change.
The huge capital cost of providing a new supply for Dublin at a time of severe budgetary constraints will obviously pose problems for the Government. However, there is little appetite among Ministers to reintroduce water charges to fund it.
The Irish Times