Is your water from a private supply? EPA finds these are among worst for quality

Fifth of population get drinking water from small private wells, says report

Private water supplies including those serving rural schools, hotels and hospitals offer some of the State’s worst quality water, the Environmental Protection Agency has warned.

One fifth of the country's population get their drinking water from small private wells, according to the report from the agency, Focus on Private Water Supplies.

However, small private wells have the worst E.coli contamination levels – significantly behind privately-owned group schemes and water supplies coming directly from the public mains.


All water supplies should be formally monitored twice a year if they serve more than 50 people, or if they or supply a volume of water greater than or equal to 10 cubic metres a day, says the EPA.


Such wells are vulnerable to contamination from leaky well covers, foul surface water, animals getting into rivers and streams, and pollution from septic tanks, slurry and chemical or fuel storage, it said.

Fenced off

Well heads should be constructed above ground level and sealed and capped. The well should be fenced off and cattle should be kept away form areas from where water is sourced.

Farmers should also be aware of minimum distances for land spreading and pesticides or other chemicals should not be used around a well or surface water abstraction point.

Boil-water notices were imposed on 94 private wells during 2015 affecting more than 5,400 people, while 60 were contaminated with human or animal waste at least once during the year.

Testing showed that wells supplying commercial businesses or to buildings where the public has access – such as schools, creches and campsites were at greatest risk.


Calling for action, EPA senior inspector, Darragh Page said local authorities should intervene and enforce improvements where quality standards were threatened if “the water supplier is unwilling to take action”.

The report’s key findings include:

Thirty private group water schemes and 864 small wells were not monitored by councils for E.coli in 2015, including 270 serving hotels and restaurants, 99 schools and childcare centres and 23 nursing homes.

All public group water schemes are 100 per cent complaint with E.coli standards, while private group water schemes tested were 96.1 per cent compliant. Small private supplies were 94.8 per cent compliant.

Microbiological contamination of private water supplies included E.coli (5.2 per cent of samples) and enterococci (5.9 per cent of samples).

Chemical contaminants included copper (0.6 per cent); lead (1 per cent) and Nitrate (1.2 per cent).

Enforcement action was taken against 418 small private supplies in Co Cork, followed by Co Kilkenny (153) and Co Laois (145); 74 in Co Galway, followed by 54 in Co Mayo and 39 in Co Tipperary.

Enforcement action was also taken against 93 public group water schemes in Co Clare; 77 in Co Leitrim and 66 in Co Mayo.

Public and private group water schemes should have disinfection in place at all surface water supplies. Where chlorine is used, they should ensure that chlorine can still be detected by every customer served.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist