Significant reduction of E.coli in public drinking water supplies

Date released: Feb 17 2011

There has been a 50 per cent reduction in the detection of E.coli in Irish public drinking water in the last two years, according to a new report released today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Commenting on the report Mr. Dara Lynott, Director, EPA Office of Environmental Enforcement, said: 

“The EPA targeted a reduction in the detection of E.coli in drinking water in recent years and today we are seeing the success of this programme with a 50 per cent reduction in two years.  Despite this reduction investment needs to be maintained to bring detection levels in line with other EU countries.”

This is the EPA’s third report on drinking water quality since new regulations were introduced in 2007 providing for a greater level of consumer protection. The regulations require all local authorities to notify the EPA where there is a potential risk to human health, and to comply with directions given by the EPA. 

Safety of supply:
Almost 250,000 monitoring tests against national and EU standards are carried out on the safety of our drinking water annually.  In relation to the safety of our drinking water, this comprehensive testing regime shows:

  • E. coli was detected at least once in 27 out of 944 public water supplies in 2009. This figure is down from 39 in the previous year (2008).
  • The number of private group water schemes where E. coli was detected dropped from 134 in 2008 to 87 in 2009.  However, despite this improvement, 17% of private group water schemes were contaminated at least once during 2009.
  • Overall compliance with the chemical standards was at 99.2% in 2009. This is a drop from 99.5% in 2008 because of poorer compliance with the new trihalomethanes standard.
  • Compliance with some indicator parameters, in particular compliance with aluminium and turbidity parametric values, remains an area for improvement.

Security of supply:
In relation to the security of water supplies (that is, the management of the risks from the source water, through the drinking water treatment plant and supply network to our taps):

  • The EPA had identified 339 supplies in need of remedial action in early 2008 and placed them on a Remedial Action List.  Of those, 42 per cent (142) have been removed as the necessary remedial actions have been completed. This includes the public water supplies in Limerick, Galway and Waterford cities which were upgraded in recent years. 
  • At the end of 2010 there were 264 supplies on the Remedial Action List. This includes 67 new supplies added to the list since it was first published in 2008.
  • Boil water notices or restrictions of use were put in place on 53 supplies serving approximately 93,000 persons in 2009.  Adverse weather conditions in November 2009 alone led to the imposition of boil water notices on 10 public water supplies.
  • 44 legally binding directions were issued by the EPA to 16 local authorities in 2008 and 28 legally binding directions to 9 local authorities in 2009.

Concluding, Gerard O’Leary, Programme Manager, EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“The focused investment in water treatment plants at risk of failing to meet drinking water standards has brought about much needed improvements to our drinking water infrastructure. An additional 500,000 people are now served by supplies that have been removed from our Remedial Action List.”

The report, The Provision and Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland, A Report for the Years 2008 – 2009, is available on the EPA website and contains summary reports for all local authorities.  Hard copies are also available from the EPA Publications’ Office, McCumiskey House, Richview, Dublin 14 on 01-2680100 - €25.


Editor’s Notes:

E. coli  - a bacteria that is an indicator of whether human or animal waste has entered a water supply.

Trihalomethanes (THMs) are formed in drinking water as a result of the disinfection of water that contains organic matter.

The European Communities (Drinking Water) Regulations (No.2), 2007 assigns powers and responsibilities to the EPA in the drinking water area. The powers assigned to the EPA include a responsibility to:

  • The responsibility to issue Directions if necessary to ensure that water supplies comply with relevant quality standards.
  • The oversight of actions taken by Water Services Authorities in public water supplies to continue to meet the relevant quality standards.
  • The completion of audits at Water Services Authorities water treatment plants.
  • The publication of guidance to assist compliance with the Drinking Water Regulations.

The local authority, in turn, has been designated as the supervisory authority over private water supplies (including group water schemes) and has similar responsibilities to the EPA in relation to these supplies.

Remedial Action List: The EPA prepared a list in 2008 of public water supplies where remedial action was required. This list is called the “Remedial Action List for Public Drinking Water Supplies”.  The EPA uses the list to focus attention on resolving any deficiencies in public water supplies and to ensure that local authorities prepare and implement an action programme for each public water supply on the list. 

Further information: EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours)