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Risks To Public Health In Private Drinking Water Supplies Not Being Tackled.

  • One in 20 private water supplies failed to meet the standard for E. coli, compared to 1 in 200 for public water supplies. 
  • Local authorities are not monitoring over a quarter of small private supplies for E. coli .
  • More than 60% of government funding available to deal with water quality failures went unused by suppliers. 

The EPA yesterday released the Drinking Water Quality in Private Group Schemes and Small Private Supplies 2021.  

Drinking water is provided by over 380 group water schemes to approximately 200,000 people across rural communities in Ireland.

Additionally, over 1,700 small private supplies (premises like hotels, pubs and restaurants, crèches, nursing homes and national schools) provide water to approximately 60,000 staff, customers and service users on a daily basis.
  
Meeting E.coli standards is a basic requirement in the provision of safe drinking water. In 2021, one in twenty private supplies were found to have E. coli contamination, indicating that the water supply has not been properly disinfected.
The failure of these disinfection systems put the health of approximately 6,000 people, that use these drinking water supplies throughout the country, at risk. 

In addition, twenty-one private group schemes (7%) failed to meet the standard for THMs, including five schemes that the European Commission has identified as being of particular concern.
Trihalomethanes (THM) are a by-product of the treatment process and are formed where there is an excess of organic matter in the water source.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Dr Tom Ryan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said:  “Compliance with drinking water standards in private supplies for E.coli and THMs hasn’t improved in recent years. It is essential that works to improve water quality are carried out as soon as possible to eliminate serious risks to people’s health. Private water suppliers are obliged to make sure their drinking water is clean and wholesome for consumers. Local authorities must investigate supplies that fail to meet drinking water quality standards and, where necessary, follow up with enforcement action to protect public health.”
Funding is available to group water schemes and household well owners for improvements to their supplies through the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme (MARWP).

During the 2019-2021 MARWP funding cycle over 60% (€36 million) of funding available for infrastructural improvements went unused by water suppliers. 

Mr Noel Byrne, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said:  “Water quality in private supplies consistently lags behind public water quality. It is disappointing to see that €36million of funding was not used by suppliers to address infrastructural needs at problematic private supplies. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage needs to complete its review of rural drinking water services, with the purpose of providing direction and support to water suppliers and to eliminate public health risks.”

During 2021, over a quarter of small private supplies, serving food businesses, nursing homes, crèches and B&Bs were not monitored. In addition, although there are 1,700 small private supplies registered with local authorities there may be many more that are unregistered. If a supply isn’t registered and hasn’t been monitored, there is no information on the quality of the drinking water provided to consumers.

Water suppliers in conjunction with local authorities must ensure that private supplies are registered, and that monitoring is undertaken in line with the Regulations. 

This report outlines the actions that need to be taken to address the issues highlighted.
The full EPA report is available HERE

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