Protecting Your Private Well

What is a private well?

Private wells are not regulated under the European Communities (Drinking Water) Regulations 2014.

A private well is a well that is privately owned and provides water to a single house and does not provide water to the public through a commercial or social activity.

Irish Water has no role to play in abstractions relating to private water supplies.  Water charges do not apply to private well owners so long as they are not also connected to a public water supply.

This means that you are responsible for the quality of your well water; however, your local authority is responsible for providing advice and guidance in relation to the protection of your supply.  While strictly speaking your supply does not have to comply with the drinking water regulations it should comply with the water quality standards, which have been set in order to protect human health (see parameters listed for full details).  The onus is on you to resolve the water problem if it relates to an issue that requires water treatment and is outside the pollution control remit of the local authority or the EPA (if it relates to an EPA licenced facility). 

If you are concerned about your well water, contact your local authority or your HSE Environmental Health Officer for advice.  If you suspect that your water may be contaminated it may be advisable to boil your water until you have had your well water tested.

Please keep in mind that while you might not get sick from water that you have been using for many years, visitors and especially young children can be very susceptible to infection with very slight contamination because they have not developed immunity to the bacteria in your well.

You may need to obtain independent advice on how to remedy the problem.  See EPA Advice Note on Exempted Supplies for more details. 

Risks to your well

It is important that everyone is aware of the risks posed to water coming from private wells.  Just because the water comes from underground does not mean it is ok to drink at all times. 

Soil cover can provide protection to the water in your well but if it is shallow your well may be vulnerable to contamination.  Polluting activities such as domestic wastewater treatment systems or septic tanks, farmyards and land-spreading of slurry and grazing cattle may pose a risk to the water in your well.  One litre of domestic wastewater contains around 1 million E. coli bacteria yet it takes just a few organisms of one type of E. coli (VTEC) to cause severe human illness.  In rare cases VTEC infection can be fatal.  The drinking water standard for E. coli is zero.

Polluting matter may seep into the ground and contaminate the groundwater itself and then pumped into your well (see Figure below) OR it may flow over the land surface and down around the top of your well and into the groundwater, which is then pumped into your well. 

‌The most common problem associated with private wells is poor well construction.  It is very important that the well is drilled properly, grouted and lined to make sure that polluting matters cannot get into the well from the ground surface or from shallow groundwater.  See Advice Note 14 and the IGI Guidelines for more details on good well construction and wellhead protection.

There are recommended setback distances between polluting activities and your private well which will assist in protecting your well from contamination if it has been constructed appropriately in the Table below.


Select Image to Download
Polluting Activity

Minimum distance (in metres) from the polluting activity to your private well

Septic tank or treatment system including percolation area or polishing filter 15 - 601
Farmyard manure storage, slatted sheds, slurry storage and silage bales/clamps 50
Fuel Storage Tank 30
Land-spreading 25
Chemical storage 5
Pesticides / Fertiliser storage 30
Note 1: Wells should be sited upgradient if possible and as far away as possible from wastewater treatment systems. The minimum recommended distance between a wastewater treatment system and well varies from 15m to 60m depending on the slope and soil type and is set out in the Code of Practice

image of infographic on private wells image of infographic on private wells

















Select the infographic image to download the full size version.Photo of Fenced Well

It is recommended that you secure your wellhead from animal access (e.g. putting a fence around your wellhead).

To ensure that your health is not at risk from contamination of your water supply, you should check that your well is adequately protected.  Make sure that contamination is not getting into your well by checking

  • If your wellhead is sealed?
  • If the well is lined and grouted?
  • If surface water or runoff can get into the well?

The best way to ensure your water is safe is to look for any potential sources of contamination such as:

  • Domestic wastewater treatment systems such as septic tanks;
  • Landspreading of slurry;
  • Storage of chemicals such as disinfectants, pesticides, paints;
  • Fuel storage tanks for home heating oil;
  • Abandoned boreholes.

Water from your well may be contaminated if it is discoloured, even occasionally, or if there is an odour coming from it. Even if your water is crystal clear it may still be contaminated as many of the bugs in water are invisible.

See the Private Well Protection Leaflet for more information on how to protect and maintain your well.

If you are concerned about your well water, contact your local authority or your HSE Environmental Health Officer for advice.  If you suspect that your water may be contaminated it may be advisable to boil your water until you have had your well water tested.

Use the Protect your Well App to identify whether or not your well is at risk of contamination.