South Tipperary Co. Council's emergency phone line has been inundated with thousands of calls from frustrated home and business owners about water cut offs and burst water pipes around the county over the Christmast holiday period.
The Council says its water services staff have been working since the thaw set in last weekend to repair burst and leaking water mains damaged during the long stretch of freezing weather.
It has urged householders to conserve water as much as possible as the water supplies in its resevoirs are at very low levels due to as yet undetected leaks and the fact many households kept their water taps on day and night during the cold snap to prevent water pipes from freezing.
The Council warned that homes, businesses and other supply users in any area of the county can expect to have their water cut off at night without prior notice over the next few days in order to restore water supplies to the resevoirs.
Co. Council spokesman Aidan Fennessy also appealed to the public not to contact the Council's emergency phone line if their water supply problem was caused by a burst water pipe that wasn't part of the Council's water mains system. Such has been the volume of calls, that many people have been unable to get through on the phone line to report their water supply difficulties.
"We have been inundated with thousands of calls but the problem is that most of the calls have related to individual problems where people had frozen pipes in their homes. That has caused us huge problems and has meant that many people have been unable to get through on the line."
Mr Fennessy said Council staff have been trying their best over Christmas to keep up with the water mains repairs across its 26 water supply schemes and the Council was keeping the public updated on the situation through local radio.
The worst affected areas for water supply cut offs due to damage to Council water mains were west Tipperary, Ardfinnan, the Clerihan and Mullinahone areas.
Mr Fennessy said the longest cut off was 24 hours in west Tipperary but he acknowledged that water supply users based in the extremities of affected water schemes may have been without water for as long as three or four days.
While water tankards were deployed in towns such as Cashel for residential areas where water supplies had been cut off, Mr Fennessy said this wasn't done in the county area because logistially it was very difficult. However, the Council was now looking at sending tankards into some rural areas with significant water shortages.
He estimated the problems with water supply cut offs and burst pipes would continue up to the weekend.
Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes said the water supply problems have caused desperate hardship across the county. While Council staff working to resolve the difficulties had done their best, he believed more Council workers should have been deployed to help them deal with this emergency.
He also criticised the Council for not sending tankards of water to villages around the county where there were water supply cut offs.
Deputy Hayes said the Fire Service and Defence Forces should have also been brought in to back up the efforts of the Council staff and to help and advise members of the public suffering flooding problems associated with burst water pipes.
"I have to commend the Council staff who were working over the Christmas but a proper plan to deal with water problems after a freeze up is not in place and I wouldn't be happy with what I saw on the ground. People from Burncourt to Skeehanarinka and Golden to Ballingarry have been onto me about water cut offs.
Co. Council spokesman Aidan Fennessy said he was disappointed with Deputy Hayes's criticism and questioned how the TD could make such a statement when he wouldn't have been aware of the number of staff the Council had working over the Christmas holidays.
He estimated that about 30 indoor and outdoor Council staff worked at different stages over the Christmas on the crisis.
"We had all our plumbing crews deployed as much as possible. You can't have people on 24-hours a day for health and safety reasons. You are talking about the highways and byways of South Tipperary, not the M8. We have had everyone working that needed to be working."
"I give the greatest praise to staff for what they have done over Christmas in the type of conditions we have had. I know one person who was taking calls over 24-hours a day, over six days."
He added that it wouldn't have been worthwhile engaging private contractors to back up the Council water services staff as they would not be familiar with the Council's water mains system.
Deputy Hayes responded that his comments reflected the feedback he received from constituents.