Catchment News

EPA: Urgent action needed to improve private drinking water quality

19 October 2023: The EPA has 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. 

  • 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 ruralwater that need to be addressed to protect publichealth.  

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 per cent of private supplies were monitored in 2022, up from 75 per cent in 2021, the results highlight ongoing issues with the quality of private drinking water supplies:

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.

“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.” 

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

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.

“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.” 

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

Learn more:

The report is available on the EPA website. 

Some key findings of the 2022 report on private water supplies:

  • 266 (16%) of the 1,700 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 – 95.9% (14 of 370 failed to meet the standard)
    • Small private supplies – 95.5% (73 of 1,434 failed to meet the standard).
  • Sixteen private group schemes and one small private supplies failed to meet the Trihalomethanes (THM) standard.
  • Monitoring data is available at the following link: SAFER-Data: Welcome to SAFER (

Regulated and Exempt Private Water Supplies 

Some private supplies are overseen by the local authority because they are covered by the Drinking Water Regulations. This makes them regulated supplies. Other supplies are not covered by the regulations; these are called exempt supplies. The table below shows which supplies are regulated and which are exempt. 

Type of supplyNumber of people served or volume suppliedRegulated or exempt?
Public Group Scheme or Private Group Scheme>50 people or 10,000 litres per dayRegulated
<50 people or 10,000 litres per day, not supplying any public/commercial activityExempt
<50 people or 10,000 litres per day, but supplying a public/commercial activityRegulated
Small Private SupplySupplying a public or commercial activity regardless of the number of people served or volume suppliedRegulated
Household well (also called private wells)Single house onlyExempt


Trihalomethanes (THM) are a by-product of the chlorine disinfection process and are formed where there is an excess of organic matter in the water source. Water suppliers should aim to keep THM levels within the drinking water standards. Sixteen private group schemes serving approx. 14,000 people failed to meet the standard for trihalomethanes. During 2021 the Commission referred Ireland to the Court of Justice of the European Union in relation to THM exceedances.  Actions to prevent THM failures need to be prioritised, to protect public health.

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 4,842 water bodies, looking at trends and changes, determining which waterbodies are at risk and what could be causing this, and drafting environmental objectives 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 to protect and restore our waters.