EPA Drinking Water Report for 2011: Public water supplies continue to improve; Private wells growing cause for concern

Date released: Nov 29 2012

  • The quality of public water supplies serving 80% of the population continues to improve.  Number of E.coli exceedances down by almost 90% since 2005.
  • The EPA Remedial Action List (RAL) of water supplies down from 339 to 183 in four years.  Remedial works on a further 90 will be complete by year end.
  • Private wells are a growing cause for concern.  Instances of VTEC (a harmful strain of E. coli which may cause severe illness) have doubled in the last year.  Contaminated well water can be a source.
  • Disinfection kills all strains of E. coli, including VTEC.  Public supplies are disinfected.  Many private wells are not.
  • Bad weather a major challenge, particularly for vulnerable water sources.
  • EPA asks all owners of wells and those not on public supplies to check water sources

The quality of drinking water in Ireland continued to improve in 2011 according to a new report released today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The EPA’s Drinking Water Report for 2011 is based on results from 250,000 monitoring tests; it shows that public water supplies serving more than 80% of the population have improved year-on-year since the EPA created a Remedial Action List over four years ago.  There were 339 public water supplies needing remedial action on the list when it was created four years ago, now there are 183.  Remedial works in a further 90 will be complete by year end.

 “The number of occurrences of E.coli in public supplies is down by almost 90% since 2005 as a result of better monitoring, management, processes, and disinfection by local authorities,” said Gerard O’Leary, Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement.  He added that the next steps were to secure these gains by local authorities adopting a water safety plan approach to producing drinking water.

There is also now much more information available to the public on the quality of public water supplies throughout the country.  Information can be sourced on Local Authority and EPA websites.

The quality of drinking water from private supplies, however, remains inferior to that from public supplies and is a growing cause for concern.  This year, the HSE reported a doubling of the number of VTEC cases, which is a harmful member of the E. coli family.  VTEC can be transmitted in a number of ways, e.g. person to person, waterborne, or foodborne.  The second most common transmission route reported by the HSE this year so far is waterborne transmission.  Public water supplies are disinfected – disinfection kills all E. coli including VTEC, however not all private wells are disinfected.

“We are concerned about the growing number of VTEC cases,” said Valerie Doyle, Senior Inspector, Office of Environmental Enforcement.  “Any form of E. coli is an indicator of faecal matter in the water supply, and VTEC is a harmful form of E. coli.  It may cause gastroenteritis, but its toxins can lead to far more serious consequences. We would urge the owners of private supplies to check their water sources, and they will get vital information on what to look out for on Local Authority and EPA websites.”

Bad weather increases the challenge to water supplies as high levels of rainfall can lead to more potential contaminants being washed into water supplies.  Private supplies are more vulnerable; they are less secure than public water supplies, which now have high levels of monitoring, alarms, and disinfection.

“We would urge the owners of private wells to monitor them carefully, given the bad weather we’ve had,” said Valerie Doyle, Senior Inspector, Office of Environmental Enforcement.  “Owners should ensure that their wells are designed, located, installed and maintained properly. Wells should be tested regularly, particularly after a prolonged period of heavy rainfall, since this is when the well may be overwhelmed and become contaminated.”

Notes for Editors

  • Security of water supplies relies on the management of the risks from the source water, through the drinking water treatment plant and supply network to our taps.  This can be delivered effectively through the adoption of Water Safety Plans. 
  • The EPA identified 339 supplies in need of remedial action in early 2008 and placed them on a Remedial Action List or Drinking water.  o 61 per cent (206) have been removed as the necessary remedial actions have been completed. o 183 supplies remain on the list following the addition of 104 supplies to the original list.o Remedial works will be complete in a further 90 supplies on the RAL by the end of 2012.
  • 26 new boil water notices and 5 new water restrictions (serving approximately 40,000 persons) were put in place by 15 Water Service Authorities (WSAs) in 2011. This is a reduction on 2010 where 43 new boil water notices and 7 new water restrictions notices.
  • 23 legally binding directions were issued by the EPA to 8  Water Service Authorities in 2011.
  • E. coli - a bacteria that is an indicator of whether human or animal waste has entered a water supply.  VTEC - A strain of E. coli that produces a powerful toxin and can cause severe illness. There are several important sub groups of VTEC – E. coli O157 is most widely known.
  • The report, The Provision and Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland, A Report for the Year 2011, is available on the EPA website and contains summary reports for all Water Service Authorities.  Hard copies are also available from the EPA Publications’ Office, EPA HQ, PO Box 3000, Johnstown Castle Estate, Co Wexford, or phone 053 9160600.
  • Water Safety Plans, an effective means to consistently ensure the safety of drinking water through the use of a comprehensive risk assessment and risk management approach that encompasses all steps in the water supply from catchment to consumer. 
  • 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:
  • 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.


Further information: Annette Cahalane/ Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie