Catchment News

EPA report on private drinking water supplies says continuing risks to public health are not being tackled

25 November 2022: The EPA has released the Drinking Water Quality in Private Group Schemes and Small Private Supplies 2021 report. 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.

  • 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.

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.

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

Dr Tom Ryan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement

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.

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.

Noel Byrne, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement

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.

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

  • 444 (26%) of the 1,709 small private supplies registered were not monitored.
  • The percentage of schemes fully compliant with the E. coli standards was as follows:
    • Private group water schemes – 95.4% (17 of 372 failed to meet the standard)
    • Small private supplies – 95.4% (59 of 1,295 failed to meet the standard).
  • Twenty-one private group schemes and 5 small private supplies failed to meet the Trihalomethanes (THM) standard.
  • Monitoring data is available at the following link: SAFER-Data: Welcome to SAFER (epa.ie)

Learn more:

This report outlines the actions that need to be taken to address the issues highlighted.

The report is available on the EPA website.

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.

LAWCO

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.

EPA

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.

DECLG

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.