“Continuing risks to public health in private drinking water supplies are not being tackled”, says EPA

Date released: November 24, 2022

  • One in 20 private water supplies failed to meet the standard for E. coli, compared to 1 in 200 for public water supplies.
  • Local authorities are not monitoring over a quarter of small private supplies for E. coli
  • More than 60% of government funding available to deal with water quality failures went unused by suppliers.

The EPA today released the Drinking Water Quality in Private Group Schemes and Small Private Supplies 2021 report. Drinking water is provided by over 380 group water schemes to approximately 200,000 people across rural communities in Ireland. Additionally, over 1,700 small private supplies (premises like hotels, pubs and restaurants, crèches, nursing homes and national schools) provide water to approximately 60,000 staff, customers and service users on a daily basis.

Meeting E.coli standards is a basic requirement in the provision of safe drinking water. In 2021, one in twenty private supplies 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 6,000 people that use these drinking water supplies throughout the country at risk.

In addition, twenty-one private group schemes (7%) failed to meet the standard for THMs, including five schemes that the European Commission has identified as being of particular concern. Trihalomethanes (THM) are a by-product of the treatment process and are formed where there is an excess of organic matter in the water source.

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

“Compliance with drinking water standards in private supplies for E.coli and THMs hasn’t improved in recent years. It is essential that works to improve water quality are carried out as soon as possible to eliminate serious risks to people’s health. Private water suppliers are obliged to make sure their drinking water is clean and wholesome for consumers. Local authorities must investigate supplies that fail to meet drinking water quality standards and, where necessary, follow up with enforcement action to protect public health.”

Funding is available to group water schemes and household well owners for improvements to their supplies through the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme (MARWP). During the 2019-2021 MARWP funding cycle over 60% (€36 million) of funding available for infrastructural improvements went unused by water suppliers.

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

"Water quality in private supplies consistently lags behind public water quality. It is disappointing to see that €36million of funding was not used by suppliers to address infrastructural needs at problematic private supplies. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage needs to complete its review of rural drinking water services, with the purpose of providing direction and support to water suppliers and to eliminate public health risks.”

During 2021, over a quarter of small private supplies, serving food businesses, nursing homes, crèches and B&Bs were not monitored. In addition, although there are 1,700 small private supplies registered with local authorities there may be many more that are unregistered. If a supply isn’t registered and hasn’t been monitored, there is no information on the quality of the drinking water provided to consumers. Water suppliers in conjunction with local authorities must ensure that private supplies are registered, and that monitoring is undertaken in line with the Regulations.

This report outlines the actions that need to be taken to address the issues highlighted.

The report is available on the EPA website.


Further information: Niamh Hatchell, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie

Notes to Editor:

Some key findings of the 2021 report on private water supplies:

  • 444 (26%) of the 1,709 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 – 95.4% (17 of 372 failed to meet the standard)
    • Small private supplies – 95.4% (59 of 1,295 failed to meet the standard).
  • Twenty-one private group schemes and 5 small private supplies failed to meet the Trihalomethanes (THM) standard.
  • Monitoring data is available at the following link: SAFER-Data: Welcome to SAFER (epa.ie)

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/commercial 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 called private wells) Single house only Exempt

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. Twenty-one private group schemes serving approx. 26,000 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.