Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland 2004

Date released: Dec 15 2005

Drinking water quality is improving according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s national report on The Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland, 2004.  The compliance rate for E. coli, the most important indicator of drinking water quality, improved in both public water supplies and group water schemes.  The quality of drinking water supplied by sanitary authorities was satisfactory in 2004 - the overall rate of compliance with drinking water standards was 96.4 per cent. The sanitary authorities provided this water to 84 cent of the population in public water supplies and to public group schemes (which get their water from public supplies). 

While there has been a welcome improvement in the compliance rate for E.coli - from 74.9 per cent in 2003 to 78.1 per cent in 2004 – in private group water schemes, the overall quality of drinking water supplied to less than 7 per cent of the population by these schemes remains unsatisfactory. 

Dr Matthew Crowe, Programme Manager, EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement, said, “The poor microbiological quality of the private group water schemes is the most challenging issue facing the authorities charged with responsibility for drinking water in Ireland.  Sanitary authorities should concentrate their enforcement efforts on private group schemes that consistently breach the drinking water standards to bring about the necessary improvements in drinking water quality ”.

New drinking water Regulations came into force on 1st January 2004 significantly changing the monitoring and quality requirements in water supplies in Ireland.  However, not enough samples were taken to satisfy the requirements of the regulations. 

Commenting, Dr Matthew Crowe, said, “Both the number of samples taken and parameters tested must be increased.   We are urging sanitary authorities to make sure that the recommended monitoring is carried out in all supplies.”

Previous EPA Drinking Water reports recommended that sanitary authorities should assess the vulnerability of public water supplies to Cryptosporidium, commencing with the larger treatment plants.  Cryptosporidiosis is a notifiable disease that can cause fever, stomach upsets, weight loss and diarrhoea and can be fatal in the young and old and those with weak immune systems.

Welcoming the steps taken by sanitary authorities, Dr Crowe said, “It is encouraging to see that a large number of sanitary authorities have commenced work in this area.  So far 363 risk assessments for Cryptosporidium have been carried out.  The supplies assessed provide water to about 59% of consumers served by public water supplies.  We now recommend that risk assessments be carried out on the remaining public water supplies.  A report on these risk assessments will be published by the EPA during 2006.” 

EPA Audits found that management of drinking water by sanitary authorities has improved compared to previous years.  However, Dr Crowe said, “We would strongly advise that corrective action programmes are put in place for plants consistently in breach of the standards and in this report we are calling for the introduction of legislation to provide for the overseeing and enforcing of sanitary authorities implementation of the drinking water Regulations.”

Summary reports for all sanitary authorities are included and the report is available on the EPA web site

or from the EPA’s Publications’ Office, McCumiskey House, Richview, Dublin 14 on 01-2680100.

ENDS


Notes to Editor:

The Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland: A Report for the Year 2004

1. Key findings and recommendations

The results of monitoring of drinking water supplies in Ireland in 2004 involved the assessment and review of 189,743 individual tests carried out on 16,431 samples of drinking water in 904 public water supplies, 794 public group water schemes, 778 private group water schemes and 123 small private supplies.  However, the number of samples and individual tests should be greater as many sanitary authorities did not fulfil the minimum monitoring requirements due to insufficient samples being analysed in some supplies, insufficient parameters being tested in some samples and the omission of some supplies from the monitoring programme entirely.  No monitoring was carried out on 26% of public group water supplies and on 10% of private group water schemes.

The report concludes that the quality of drinking water provided to 84% of the population by the sanitary authorities in public water supplies and public group water schemes (which get their water from public water supplies) was satisfactory while the quality of water provided to less than 7% of the population by private group water schemes was unsatisfactory. The overall rate of compliance with the 48 standards for drinking water in 2004 was 96.4%. 

The primary reason for the unsatisfactory status of the private group water schemes was the relatively low percentage of samples complying with the E. coli parametric value (78.1%).  In this regard the quality of the private group water schemes was lower than that of the small private supplies (90.3% compliance), the public group water schemes (96.2% compliance) and the public water supplies (98.9%).  Four Counties had less than 60% compliance with the E.coli parametric value in private group water schemes.

The poor microbiological quality of the private group water schemes is the most challenging issue facing the authorities charged with responsibility for drinking water in Ireland.  Though the majority of these schemes have plans in place to be upgraded as part of a Design Build Operate (DBO) bundle there are a significant number of poor quality schemes which are not participating in this process. 

Monitoring of the chemical quality of drinking water reveals a high rate of compliance with the standards across all types of supplies (99.3%).  However, compliance for fluoride, lead, bromate and trihalomethanes is in need of improvement.   More stringent standards will apply in 2013 (for lead) and 2008 (for bromate and trihalomethanes).

Since 1st January 2004, Cryptosporidiosis has been made a notifiable disease.  This means that where a case of the disease is detected it must be reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Unit (formerly the National Disease Surveillance Centre).  The Unit reported that there were three outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis whose transmission route was suspected to be waterborne in 2004.  Indications for 2005 are that the number of cases has risen substantially, though this may be due to improved reporting and surveillance.

Risk assessments were carried out on 331 individual public water supplies by sanitary authorities to determine the vulnerability of public water supplies to Cryptosporidium.  59% of the total population are served by a public water supply which has had a risk assessment carried out. Of the 371 risk assessments carried out (some supplies have more than one source) 21% were identified as being in the high-risk or very high-risk categories.

Sanitary authorities should carry out risk assessments to determine the vulnerability of public water supplies to Cryptosporidium on the remaining public water supplies that serve 41% of the total population.              

The EPA carried out a series of audits during the reporting period and found that management by sanitary authorities of the area of drinking water has improved compared to previous years.  More sanitary authorities have adopted a documented management systems approach and all sanitary authorities audited had developed a documented protocol for dealing with exceedances of the standards, in accordance with EPA recommendations.  There was little evidence of the implementation of source protection measures at the majority of plants visited although the carrying out of Cryptosporidium Risk Assessments at many of the plants visited is a welcome step in the right direction.

Key recommendations of this report are.

1.      Sanitary authorities should ensure that each exceedance of the parametric values is investigated.  For non-trivial exceedances, a corrective action plan should be prepared within 60 days and the action to be taken should be complete within one year if the exceedance presents a risk to public health or within two years if the exceedance does not present a risk to public health.

2.      Sanitary authorities must use the enforcement options available to them to pursue persons responsible for the management of group water schemes that supply water to members of the public to an unacceptable level.

3.      Sanitary authorities should carry out risk assessments to determine the vulnerability of public water supplies to Cryptosporidium on the remaining public water supplies that serve 41% of the total population.

4.      Sanitary authorities should examine the results of the risk assessments in detail and for those supplies that are high risk or very high risk, take remedial action to reduce the risk.

5.      Consideration should be given to the introduction of legislation to provide for the overseeing and enforcing of sanitary authorities implementation of the drinking water Regulations.  The legislation should include the provision of powers to an appropriate body to direct sanitary authorities to carry out specified actions where the need arises and to prosecute sanitary authorities if they fail to carry out directions or continually fail to provide drinking water that meets the requirements of the drinking water Regulations.

6.      Sanitary authorities should carry out a lead survey to determine the extent of lead piping in the distribution network and in the population served.

7.     Sanitary authorities should ensure that fluoridation is carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Fluoridation Act and that levels in the final waters do not exceed 1.0 mg/l.

2. Definition of terms

Sanitary Authority: responsible for the production, distribution and monitoring of public water schemes, a sanitary authority is defined as one of the 34 City and County Councils.  As of 1st January 2004 sanitary functions which were formerly the responsibility of Town or Borough Councils now rest with the relevant County Council.

Public Water Supplies (PWS).  These are sanitary authority operated schemes (though these may be run by a private contractor on behalf of the sanitary authority).  They supply water to the majority of households in Ireland.

‘Public’ Group Water Schemes (PuGWS).  These are schemes where the water is provided by the sanitary authority but responsibility for distribution of the water rests with the group scheme.  These schemes tend to be supplied off larger public water supplies.

‘Private’ Group Water Schemes (PrGWS). These are schemes where the owners of the scheme (usually representatives of the local community) source and distribute their own water.  Combined, the ‘public’ and ‘private’ group water schemes supply water to around 10% of the population of Ireland.

Small Private Supplies (SMP).  This is a large group of different types of supplies comprising industrial water supplies (such as those used in the brewing industry) to boreholes serving single houses.  The majority of these supplies are exempt from the requirements of the Regulations except where the water is supplied as part of a public or commercial activity.