Information for Unregulated Private Water Supplies
What is an unregulated private water supply?
An unregulated private water supply is any supply that is not provided by or regulated by a Sanitary Authority i.e. County or City Council. It is any private supply that provides less than 10 cubic meters a day of water or serves less than 50 people and does not have a public or commercial activity. Examples of public or commercial activities include - restaurant or bed and breakfast.
Why is this information needed?
Although the majority of private water supplies are safe to drink most of the time, they can be at risk from contamination. A number of serious illnesses caused by pathogens, such as E. coli O157 and Cryptosporidium can be transmitted through contaminated drinking water supplies. It is essential that you keep your private water supply safe from contamination to protect your health, and your family’s health.
County and City Councils are required (by the European Communities (Drinking Water) Regulations (No. 2) 2007 (S.I. No. 278 of 2007)) to provide owners and users of unregulated private water supplies with information about the risks of contamination and with advice about what they can do to protect their supplies and keep them safe. This information is intended to fulfill this obligation.
What is the problem?
Safe drinking water is essential to good health. Unregulated private water supplies can pose a risk to health unless they are properly protected and treated. They may become contaminated with microbes, such as bacteria, or chemicals. Some of these are harmless, but others may cause serious illness, particularly in vulnerable people such as the elderly, the very young, pregnant women and sick people. You may not be able to tell without sampling and analysis whether your water supply is safe because the contamination may not change the taste, smell or colour of your water.
This information explains how you can protect your supply and reduce the risk of contamination. It also describes the different types of unregulated private water supplies, and potential causes of contamination.
How do water supplies become contaminated?
Springs, wells and boreholes
Springs, wells and boreholes may get contaminated at the point where -
Springs and shallow wells that draw water from close to the surface are more likely to be contaminated than springs, wells and boreholes that draw water from deep underground. In farmland, underground water can pick up nitrates or pesticides from their use on crops. It can also pick up pathogens from faeces of grazing animals or the spreading of manure or slurry.
Streams, rivers, ponds and lakes
The quality of water from streams, rivers, ponds and lakes will generally not be as good as that from springs, wells and boreholes. The quality will also vary depending on weather conditions and activities in the catchment area. These waters are more likely to be contaminated, particularly from bacteria, at times of high rainfall and warm weather. Water that runs across the land into the streams, rivers, ponds or lakes can be contaminated from various sources such as soil, crops and faeces of farm animals, wild animals and birds.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
1 - Find out about your supply
2 - Keep your supply safe
Inspect all parts of your supply regularly to check that it is in good condition and has not been interfered with or damaged. This means looking at the source of the supply, including the catchment area of the source, at any collection chamber and treatment plant, and the pipe work to your property.
For supplies from springs, wells and boreholes
For supplies from streams, rivers, ponds and lakes
For supplies from farmland
If you are a farmer
3 - Consider getting your supply checked
It is advisable to have your well tested once a year for bacterial contamination, and once every three years for chemical contamination.
If you are concerned that your supply may be contaminated you should get it checked. Contact your local County or City Council or HSE Environmental Health Officer in the first instance. Alternatively, you can arrange to have a sample tested using a private laboratory. But remember that a test can only tell you about the quality of your supply at the time of the test, and the quality of water may change at different times.
4 - Consider treating your supply
If you know or suspect that your supply is contaminated you should consider getting it treated to remove the contamination.
If your supply also serves other properties it is better and cheaper to install treatment for the whole supply, provided the other property owners agree, than to install treatment at each property.The choice of treatment must suit your supply and the contamination present.
Note however, that a once-off disinfection procedure cannot replace a proper treatment system if your supply needs continuous disinfection.
5 - Consider your pipe work
Many unregulated supplies are naturally acidic and may dissolve lead from lead pipes (or lead tanks). If your water supply passes through lead pipes, either inside or outside your property, it may contain high levels of lead. Lead can be particularly harmful to infants and young children. You should consider either adding an alkali to make the water less acidic or replacing the lead pipe work with plastic pipe work.
6 - What else can you do?
If you no longer want to use your unregulated private supply because of the cost of treating or improving it, you may be able to connect to a regulated public supply. You should contact this authority (contact details below) to enquire if this is possible. It may not be feasible if the nearest regulated public supply is some distance away.
Sources and types of contamination
One possible source of bacteria is animal faeces. Water supplies drawn from farmland where animals graze or where manure or slurry is spread are most at risk, particularly where rainwater can run directly off farmland into the water source. Malfunctioning septic tanks are another possible source. Premised owners should ensure that they are properly maintained and serviced. People who do not drink the water regularly, such as visitors and guests, are at the greatest risk of contracting a disease or infection due to pathogens in the water supply.
Possible sources of chemicals in a water supply include industrial premises and workshops, mining and quarrying (both operating and abandoned), and road and driveway run-off. Farming and forestry (use of fertilizers, pesticides and sheepdips) are another possible source. Artificial fertilizers and slurry contain nitrogen. Water with high levels of nitrates may not be suitable for pregnant women, bottle-fed infants and young children.
Lead can be picked up from lead pipe work. Water with high lead levels may not be suitable for infants and young children.
Radon and uranium may be present in the water source because of the nature of the rocks in the catchment, particularly in the granite areas. High levels may be harmful. Advice can be obtained from the Radiological Protection Institute (Tel: 01-2697766).
Where can you get further advice?
If you have any questions or want further advice about your unregulated private water supply, the contact in this Council is Water Services Section, Environment Directorate Tel: 021/4924514, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, you may contact the Environmental Health Officer in your Health Service Executive area Tel: 021/4921801 (North Lee), 021/4927703 (South Lee)