Navigating uncharted waters: President of the Water Service Operators Group Patrick Buckley

by | Apr 30, 2023

President of the Water Services Operators Group Patrick Buckley on delivering value to the water services sector and embracing innovation to get work done

The future of Irish water provision is in a period of change. Indeed Irish Water is no more and is now Uisce Éireann. As of the start of this year, the body transitions to a standalone regulated public water utility.

President of the Water Service Operators Group (WSOG) Patrick Buckley speaks to how during this time a focus on innovation and delivering the best value for taxpayers is key to a successful transition.

“Companies are looking to be innovative by investing in people and fostering a continuous learning culture that every company needs to have,” says Buckley.

He uses this analogy for the work ahead for the WSOG in this crucial period. The group has an important mission – to spread the word on the work its members have done to date and join the conversation as to what the future of water provision in Ireland will look like.

The Water Services Operators Group represents Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) and Construction Industry Federation general contracting members specialising in the operation of water treatment plants.

Members include Celtic Anglian Water, Coffey, EPS, Glan Agua, Murphy, Sisk, Veolio Water and Ward & Burke.

Currently the Managing Director of Cork-based EPS Group, a member of the WSOG, Buckley describes the backing from government to support Uisce Éireann’s investment strategy as “significant” with a “massive capital programme in place now” through to 2030.

“The Government has absolutely recognised the importance of water infrastructure with the investments they have made. What we are seeing now we have never seen before in the history of the State.”

WSOG members form an integral part of the supply chain with respect to the maintenance and operation of water treatment plants (WTPs) and wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in Ireland.

Group members represent 10 per cent of WWTPs and 25 per cent of WTPs in the country, with some of the largest and most crucial of these also being operated by members.

“We have been building and operating these facilities across the country for two decades now,” Buckley says. He returns to his analogy on innovation, referencing how important it is to protect biodiversity, sustainability and the future of Ireland’s historic waterways.

“We’ve been a key part of that now for 20 years,” he adds.

It’s now at a stage where the next phase of change and transition will see Uisce Éireann as a new single water public utility with a responsibility toward upgrading and maintaining the assets that provide clean water for the citizens of Ireland.

“Everyone has to play their part and that includes the members of the WSOG” whose companies employ over 600 people directly across the country, and up to a further 150 people indirectly.

“We are here to play our part to continue to deliver value to the maintenance and operation of water treatment facilities in Ireland,” Buckley says.

As with any key piece of infrastructure, an important part of the conversation will always be how the services are procured. For 20 years the Design, Build and Operate (DBO) model has been in e

ffect, which can have a number of benefits, chief among them the consideration of the whole life cycle of a treatment facility.

“Every piece of the country’s economy and life depends on water, whether in agriculture, tourism, business or in your home, it’s a hugely important part,” Buckley says.

He describes the work of the WSOG as a “serious responsibility to the citizens of Ireland” to deliver “value to the taxpayers and contribute to the circular economy of Ireland”.

That responsibility is felt acutely throughout the sector.

“Every single employee of our members, they see the value in what we do everyday to deliver clean drinking water and protect our waterways and rivers,” he says.

It’s something all members of the WSOG feel “is an important contribution that we make to culture and life in Ireland.” There is huge work ahead for the WSOG in this period of change and transition. Buckley says the purpose of the group is to be proactive in fostering good faith dialogue with all stakeholders in water provision services.

“We have a responsibility to step up and be part of this transition, to ensure that this change is for the betterment of this country so that at the end of the day the taxpayer gets what they deserve in the form of a fit for purpose water provision service.

“We can’t just sit back and expect things to be done, we’ve got to be part of this change.”

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