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Urgent Action Needed To Improve Private Drinking Water Quality.

  • Private drinking water quality is not as good as public water quality.
  • The total number of small private supplies remains unknown as not all have registered with their local authority.
  • Eighty four percent of registered small private supplies were monitored in 2022, compared with seventy five percent in 2021.
  • The government review of the rural water sector identified several key issues in the provision of rural water that need to be addressed to protect public health.

The EPA today released the Drinking Water Quality in Private Group Schemes and Small Private Supplies 2022 report. Drinking water is provided to approximately 200,000 people across rural communities in Ireland, by over 380 group water schemes.

In addition, many rural commercial and public activities such as schools, creches, nursing homes, pubs and restaurants have their own drinking water wells. There are 1,700 small private supplies registered with local authorities, but the total number of small private supplies remains unknown, as many suppliers haven’t registered their supply.

Local authorities are required to monitor registered supplies annually and whilst 84% of private supplies were monitored in 2022, up from 75% in 2021, the results highlight ongoing issues with the quality of private drinking water supplies:

E.coli

Meeting E.coli standards is a basic requirement in the provision of safe drinking water. In 2022, fourteen private group schemes 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 5,500 people that use these drinking water supplies at risk.

Trihalomethanes (THM)

In 2022, 16 private group schemes supplying 14,000 people failed the standard for Trihalomethanes (THMs). THMs are formed when natural organic matter in the water source, such as vegetation, reacts with chlorine used in the disinfection treatment process. THM levels should comply with the drinking water quality standards, while ensuring that the water is fully disinfected. Actions to prevent THM failures need to be prioritised by suppliers, to protect public health.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Dr Tom Ryan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said: “It is a local public health concern that private drinking water quality hasn’t improved in recent years despite the availability of public funding to support upgrades to water supplies. In addition, as there is no legal requirement to register private drinking water supplies, it is not possible to quantify the full extent of the risk to public health. The registration of private supplies needs to become a legally enforceable obligation on the supplier.”

A review of the rural water sector was completed in January 2023 on behalf of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The review identified several significant issues that need to be addressed to improve drinking water compliance and reduce public health risk in private water supplies. The key issues identified by the review are outlined below:

  • All private water supplies should be registered with the local authority.
  • Access to funding for water quality improvements varies greatly across local authorities resulting in available funding not being used.
  • Measures are needed to improve management at underperforming private group schemes.

Mr Noel Byrne, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said: “The EPA welcomes the completion of the rural water sector review by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The review has highlighted several issues that are contributing to poor water quality in private supplies. It is crucial that these issues, relating to registration, funding and management are addressed so that private water supplies meet required standards and public health is protected.”

The report is available HERE on the EPA website.

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