Monitoring of private water supplies is poor and may be putting people’s health at risk, EPA says

Date released: Nov 28 2017

  • One fifth of people in Ireland get their drinking water from private water supplies.
  • In 2016, boil water notices were imposed on 126 private water supplies, affecting a population of over 7,000 people. 
  • Local authority monitoring and enforcement of private water supplies is not adequate.  Many local authorities did not monitor all supplies in their area or carry out any audits of these supplies during the 2016 reporting period.
  • E. coli testing was not reported at 809 private water supplies serving commercial buildings (hotels, B&Bs, pubs etc.) or public buildings (schools, crèches, campsites etc.).  These supplies are more likely to be contaminated with E. coli.

A report focusing on the quality of Private Water Supplies in Ireland, released today by the EPA, shows that twenty per cent of the population is supplied with drinking water by private supplies - mainly through group water schemes, or small supplies/wells operated by the owners of buildings and businesses as part of a public or commercial activity.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Mr Gerard O’Leary, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“There were 126 private water supplies, serving over 7,000 people, on boil water notices in 2016.  The safety and security of these supplies must be improved or people are at risk of becoming ill.”

The number of supplies monitored in 2016 remained inadequate with E. coli testing not reported for 809 private water supplies. Where monitoring was carried out it shows that private water supplies - to commercial businesses (hotels, B&Bs, pubs, etc.) or to buildings where the public has access (schools, crèches, campsites, etc.) - are at greater risk of being contaminated.  The report highlights that more than sixty of these supplies were found to be contaminated with human or animal waste at least once during the reporting year.

Concluding, Darragh Page, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“Local authorities must use their enforcement powers to ensure that action is taken where water quality issues are identified in private supplies.  While there was an increase in enforcement by local authorities in 2016, only nine local authorities carried out audits during the year.”

The report is available on the EPA website.

Notes to Editor:

Private Water Supplies are defined as:

  • supplies which provide water to more than 50 consumers or supply more than 10,000 litres per day; or
  • supplies which provide water as part of a public or commercial activity (such as schools, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, B&Bs, campsites etc). 

Supplies serving less than 50 consumers, including private wells serving single houses, are exempt providing they do not supply water as part of a public or commercial activity.  There are three main types of private water supplies in Ireland and all are regulated by the local authority:

  • “Public” Group Water Schemes (PuGWS). These are schemes where the water is provided by Irish Water but responsibility for distribution of the water rests with the group scheme. 
  • “Private” Group Water Schemes (PrGWS). These are schemes where the owners of the scheme (usually representatives of the local community) source and distribute their own water.  These can supply up to 5,000 people.
  • Small Private Supplies (SPS). These supplies include:
    • industrial water supplies (such as those used in the brewing industry);
    • boreholes serving commercial premises (e.g. pubs, hotels etc.) and public buildings (e.g. schools, nursing homes);
    • private housing developments where greater than 50 persons are supplied.

Some key findings of the 2016 report on private water supplies:

  • 37 public group water schemes, 20 private group water schemes and 809 small private supplies were not monitored for E. coli during 2016. Of the 809 small private supplies, 130 served hotels, B&Bs, and restaurants/cafés, 73 served schools or childcare centres and 19 served nursing homes.
  • The percentage of schemes fully compliant with the E. colistandard is as follows:
    • Public group water schemes – 99.8 per cent
    • Private group water schemes – 96.1 per cent
    • Small private supplies – 94.8 per cent
  • 126 boil water notices affecting over 7,000 people were issued to consumers of water in private water supplies.
  • 95 audits of private water supplies were carried out by nine local authorities
  • 17 directions were issued by five local authorities.
  • No prosecutions were reported to the EPA.
  • Monitoring data is available on the website.