The quality of drinking water in private water supplies is not good enough and is putting health at risk warns EPA

Date released: February 11, 2021

  • More than 100 private water supplies failed to meet the bacterial standards for drinking water. Bacteria in our water supplies can make people very ill, particularly young children, the elderly, or those who are immunocompromised. 
  • One in five known small private supplies were not monitored in 2019. Water suppliers monitor water to ensure they are providing a clean and safe supply of drinking water.
  • Water suppliers, local authorities and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage need to act to improve the quality of private drinking water so that human health is protected.

The report found that 88 of the 1,418 small private supplies monitored, failed to meet the standards relating to bacteria, which is the most important indicator of safe drinking water. Similarly, twenty of the 417 private group schemes monitored during the year, serving approximately 3,000 people, failed to meet the standards. This failure, in more than 100 private water supplies, is of significant concern and puts the thousands of users of these supplies at risk. The EPA also found failures to meet the standards for other parameters (for example, nitrates and trihalomethanes) that need to be addressed.

Critically 19 per cent of registered small private supplies, serving food businesses, nursing homes, creches and B&Bs were not monitored in 2019.  If a supply has not been monitored, it makes it impossible to be confident that the water is safe to drink.  Local Authorities must ensure that monitoring is undertaken in line with the Regulations.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Dr Tom Ryan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said: 

“Consumers should be confident that their water is safe to drink. Water suppliers are obliged to make sure their water supply is clean and wholesome and is in compliance with the water quality standards. It is critical that monitoring is undertaken and, if issues are identified, action must be taken to protect human health.”

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage developed a Remedial Action List for Group Water Schemes in 2016. This is a list of 106 group water schemes, mainly in rural areas, that require upgrades to improve drinking water quality. The report shows that progress is being made and the Department has stated that it expects that all of these supplies will be addressed by the end of 2021. 

Andy Fanning, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said:

“The Group Water Schemes identified on the list of 106 supplies need to make sure that their supplies of drinking water are safe now and for the long term to better protect public health.   It is also essential that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage puts in place improved governance and supports for the rural water sector so that appropriate actions can be taken to improve these supplies.

The report is available on the EPA website.

Further information: Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or

Notes to Editor:

Some key findings of the 2019 report on private water supplies:

  • 340 (19%) of the 1,778 small private supplies registered were not monitored.
  • The percentage of schemes fully compliant with the bacterial standards was as follows:
    • Private group water schemes – 95.2 per cent (20 of 417 failed to meet the standard)
    • Small private supplies – 93.8 per cent (88 of 1,418 failed to meet the standard).
  • Four private group water schemes and 20 small private supplies which were monitored for nitrates failed to meet the standard. 
  • Eight private group schemes and four small private supplies failed to meet the Trihalomethanes (THM) standard.
  • Monitoring data is available here.

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 day Regulated
<50 people or 10,000 litres per day, not supplying any public/commercial activity Exempt
<50 people or 10,000 litres per day, but supplying a public/commerical activity Regulated
Small private supply Supplying a public or commercial activity regardless of the number of people served or volume supplied Regulated
Household well (also known as private well) Single house only Exempt