Around 300 meter boxes installed for future water metering have been damaged during the heavy frost, Westmeath County Council has confirmed.
The cost of repair is part of a bill for over €100,000 for materials, labour, plant, and overtime which the council will have to fork out to cover damage caused as a result of the unprecedented low temperatures.
The council has done repairs at various estates across the county on the damage to meter boxes, some of which was caused by frost and some by people pouring boiling water on the boxes in an attempt to defrost them.
Some people even used blowtorches in the belief it would help get water moving; however the damage has resulted in leaks which the council says are a priority to fix.
Director of services Ray Kenny says the council’s aim is to fix leaks to conserve water with a view to getting the area’s reservoirs back up to pre-Christmas levels.
The council also wants to get consumption levels back to pre-Christmas levels because usage has “jumped dramatically”.
While it is unlikely that such “extraordinary” frost will be experienced again in the near future, Mr Kenny echoed comments made by county manager Danny McLoughlin at Monday’s county council meeting that a leaflet on water usage will be distributed to householders across the county in the autumn.
Mr McLoughlin said that the 8,000 phonecalls received by the council during the cold snap showed that people were unaware of “basic water management” issues.
Other minor water works and improvements which would ordinarily be on the annual agenda will not now take place.
“It’s not possible,” says Mr Kenny, who adds that budgets are tight. “We’ve taken a hit.”
The money to pay for this year’s repairs will come out of the annual network maintenance budget but capital projects will not be affected. As yet, the council does not know how much of the Government’s proposed €300 million assistance package it will receive.
It is estimated that in the region of 15,000 houses have been fitted with meter boxes since they became a condition of planning in 1997. In the three years from 2006 to 2009 alone, almost 5,000 houses were built in the county.
Mr Kenny says that for normal conditions the boxes are well insulated, but advises those who are concerned about possible future “abnormally severe” weather to insulate the boxes further.