Catchment News

Drinking water quality is high but increased vigilance is needed by Irish Water and Local Authorities to protect public health

The EPA Drinking Water Quality in Public Supplies Report 2021 released 7 October 2022, shows that the quality of drinking water in public supplies remains high, with over 99.7% compliance with bacterial and chemical limits. The continued high levels of water quality being achieved are positive for consumers and indicate that water is safe to drink.

  • The quality of drinking water from public supplies remains high, with over 99.7% of samples compliant with bacterial and chemical limits.
  • Two significant incidents during 2021 at the Gorey and Ballymore Eustace water treatment plants put the health of approximately 885,000 people at risk, highlighting significant failings in oversight and management by Irish Water.
  • The number of supplies breaching THM standards increased in 2021, reversing all progress seen in recent years.
  • Progress to remove lead from drinking water networks is too slow, with the need for stronger leadership at national level.
  • The number of people served by “at-risk” supplies on the EPA’s Remedial Action List (RAL) has reduced, arising from upgrade works at two large water supplies: Leixlip and Vartry water treatment plants.

However, there were two significant incidents during 2021 at the Gorey and Ballymore Eustace water treatment plants that put the health of approximately 885,000 people at risk, with community illness and hospitalisations occurring in the Gorey incident. These highlighted significant failings in oversight and management by Irish Water and local authorities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instructed Irish Water to implement a number of actions at all supplies, to prevent the reoccurrence of similar issues. As a result of these actions, more drinking water quality issues were detected and reported, with the number of Boil Water Notices increasing significantly in the last quarter of 2021. The total number of people affected by Boil Water Notices in 2021 was approx. 211,000.

“The serious incidents at Gorey and Ballymore Eustace water treatment plants last year, which resulted in unsafe water being released for consumption, have highlighted Irish Water’s fundamental obligation to ensure our public water supplies are properly operated, and managed, to protect public health. Increased vigilance is needed by Irish Water and Local Authorities in their oversight and management of plant operations to ensure incidents are dealt with appropriately and in a timely manner.”

“Boil water notices are affecting an increasing number of consumers and while we recognise the challenges these present to individuals and communities, they are necessary to protect public health. High incidences of boil water notices will remain with us until Irish Water improves the resilience of drinking water plants.”

Dr Tom Ryan, EPA Director

While water is safe today, the EPA’s Remedial Action List of “at-risk” supplies identifies where long-term improvements are needed in our drinking water infrastructure to protect public health. Following EPA targeted enforcement, supplies upgraded in 2021 include Vartry (serves approx. 127,000) and Leixlip (serves approx. 590,000) water treatment plants. At the end of 2021, there were 52 “at-risk” supplies serving approx. 375,000 people down from >1,000,000 consumers in 2020.

However, the latest publication of the RAL (Sept 2022) has seen some of this progress eroded, with the population served by “at-risk” supplies increasing to approx. 575,000. Furthermore, the length of time it takes to implement improvements at supplies is not acceptable to the EPA as it means these supplies remain vulnerable for longer. The EPA requires that Irish Water targets investment and resources to both reduce the number of supplies on the RAL, and the time it takes to implement these improvements.

“It is welcome to see how targeted enforcement has led to significant improvements at large supplies such as Leixlip and Vartry, supporting the security of these critical water supplies into the future. However, in order for supplies to be secure into the future, Irish Water must resolve the “at-risk” supplies on the RAL and ensure that future actions are targeted where they are most needed to protect public health. In particular, the deterioration in compliance with THM standards needs to be addressed as a matter of priority”.

Noel Byrne, EPA Programme Manager

Lead in drinking water causes a cumulative risk to human health. The EPA is highlighting the slow rate of lead replacement by Irish Water, as it will take almost a quarter of a century to address the risks posed to public health from lead in drinking water at the replacement rate observed in 2021. In addition, leadership is required at a national level by relevant Departments to address this issue. A report from these Departments on assessments of lead pipework in public buildings and plans to remove lead from these buildings is overdue.

Learn more:

The EPA Drinking Water Quality in Public Supplies 2021 Report and the complete list of public water supplies currently on the Remedial Action List – including details of the proposed remedial measures and associated timeframes – are available on the EPA website.

Some key findings of the 2021 report on public water supplies:

  • 99.96 per cent of samples comply with microbiological parameter limits.
  • 99.60 per cent of samples comply with chemical parameter limits.
  • 52 supplies were on the EPA’s Remedial Action List (RAL) at the end of 2021, compared to 46 at the end of 2020.
  • 70 boil water notices and 26 water restrictions were in place in 2021, affecting almost 230,000 people.
  • 29 of those boil water notices were in place for more than 30 days, meaning they are classed as long-term notices requiring investment in infrastructure to address.
  • E. coli bacteria was detected in four supplies, compared to three supplies in 2020.
  • Trihalomethanes (THM) limits were exceeded in 58 supplies, compared to 35 in 2020.
  • Pesticides limits were exceeded in 31 supplies, compared to 33 in 2020.
  • The EPA issued nine Directions (legally binding instructions) to Irish Water in 2021.

The EPA has identified the following priorities for Irish Water to address on a national level to protect and improve public water supplies:

  • Progressing action programmes for all Remedial Action List (RAL) schemes;
  • Ensure that water is free of bacteria;
  • Ensure that water is free of protozoan organisms;
  • Ensure that water is free of chemical substances (trihalomethanes and pesticides);
  • Ensure that water treatment plants are operated correctly;
  • Eliminating lead from our drinking water networks;
  • Managing risks to our public water supplies by adopting Drinking Water Safety Plans for all supplies.
    ON 30th September the EPA updated the RAL. There are currently 57 supply zones serving a population of 568,477 and increase of 5 supplies since the start of 2022. The link to the revised RAL is here.

Who is involved?

Quite simply, everyone in Ireland has a role to play. This can be from something as simple as making sure you don’t pollute your local stream, or a local community working together to establish a Rivers Trust to enhance the rivers and lakes in their area, to a Government Department or Agency helping a Minister implement a new policy to help protect and enhance all our water bodies.

This website has been developed and is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Local Authority Waters Programme.


Local Authority Waters Programme

The Local Authority Waters Programme coordinates the efforts of local authorities and other public bodies in the implementation of the River Basin Management Plan, and supports local community and stakeholder involvement in managing our natural waters, for everyone’s benefit.


Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is responsible for coordinating the monitoring, assessment and reporting on the status of our 4,829 water bodies, looking at trends and changes, determining which waterbodies are at risk and what could be causing this, and drafting environmental objectives and measures for each.


Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

The Department is responsible for making sure that the right policies, regulations and resources are in place to implement the Water Framework Directive, and developing a River Basin Management Plan and Programme of Measures that will be implemented after public consultation and sign off by the Minister.