Private water supplies
What is a private water supply?
A private water supply is one which is not provided by a water company. Approximately 1% of the population in England and Wales has a private water supply to their homes. Most private water supplies are in rural locations and are from wells, boreholes, springs or streams. The Private Water Supplies Regulations 2016 and 2018 (Amendment) Regulations set out standards for the quality of the water and place a duty on the Council to sample and risk assess these supplies.
Who is responsible for a private water supply?
The person responsible for a private water supply is called the relevant person and is defined in the Water Industry Act 1991 as;
The owner or occupier of the premises supplied; and
The owner or occupier of the premises where the source of the supply is situated even if the source lies outside the local authority's area; and
Any other person who exercises powers of management or control in relation to that source
There may be more than one relevant person for a supply.
What are the implications of the Private Water Supplies Regulations 2016 and 2018 (Amendment) Regulations?
The Private Water Supplies Regulations 2016 and 2018 Amendment Regulations cover all private water supplies and private distribution systems. They look to safeguard public health by ensuring that supplies are safe to drink by risk assessment and regular sampling. The inspection and sampling regime that we have to undertake has been significantly increased and we are entitled to recover the costs of the work involved.
Private water supplies are categorised into four groups:
- Single domestic dwellings: A supply serving only one owner occupied property
- Small supplies (Regulation 10): Supplying fewer than 50 people with water used for domestic purposes
- Large supplies (Regulation 9): Supplying over 50 people with water for domestic purposes or serving commercial premises including: B&Bs, holiday lets, any rented domestic properties, food production businesses, public buildings, etc.
- Private distribution systems (Regulation 8): Where mains water is supplied to a number of properties through a private network of pipes
Risk assessments and monitoring requirements
The regulations require the council to carry out a risk assessment of Regulation 8, Regulation 9 and Regulation 10 private water supplies at least every five years. This involves surveying the supply to identify the risks (potential failures of standards and risks to human health) and to take action to control those risks. This risk assessment will also assist in identifying which additional parameters, if any, need to be sampled when testing the water supply.
Monitoring and sampling
The regulations stipulate how frequently and for which parameters each category of private water supply will be sampled:
- Single domestic dwellings: Unless requested by the supply owner no sampling is required
- Small supplies (Regulation 10): Sampling is carried out at least once every five years and samples are tested for a reduced set of parameters compared to Regulation 9 supplies. These are listed in the regulations as Group A parameters.
- Large / commercial (Regulation 9): Sampled at least annually (or more frequently) depending on the volume of water used or if there are concerns that warrant increased monitoring. Parameters for Regulation 9 supplies are more comprehensive and include both Group A and Group B parameters in the regulations.
- Private distribution systems (Regulation 8): Receive the same five-yearly Group A sampling as small supplies, unless there is a requirement for increased monitoring
Private water supplies and dairy farms
Water used for dairy farming, e.g. for cleaning storage vessels, does not fall within scope of the Private Water Supply Regulations: 'Supplies used exclusively to wash down a surface, where the water will not affect any final product intended to be consumed.' Therefore, the use of a private water supply in the dairy process will not determine a supply’s categorisation. The categorisation and consequent level of monitoring required will be determined in relation to the other uses of the water. For example, if the supply also feeds a holiday letting it will be categorised as a 'Large/Commercial' supply and require monitoring as such. For further guidance on the types of private water supply please see the Drinking Water Inspectorate’s guidance.
Fees and charges
Some councils have their own set of charges for carrying out a risk assessment:
Investigation and action in an event of a failure
All quality failures must be immediately investigated to determine the cause of the failure and whether it was caused by the condition of the distribution system. We must require remedial action and will prohibit or restrict the use of water if it could be harmful to health.
The new regulations make it easier for us to take action. We will always try to resolve problems informally first. If unsuccessful, formal action must be taken.
We can serve an authorisation to allow failed supplies to continue whilst works are carried out to achieve compliance. Authorisations may only be granted for failures that do not constitute a health risk (usually chemical parameters). Before we issue one, we will consult all water users and the Health Authority and take their views into account. We will inform them of the authorisation and its conditions and provide advice to those that may be at greater risk e.g. parents of babies. We will review authorisations from time to time to ensure sufficient progress is being made towards improvement.
Notices will be served to improve, restrict or prohibit unwholesome supplies. Failure to comply with the notices may result in either works in default or prosecution in a Magistrates Court.
Appeals can be made to the Magistrates Court or the Secretary of State depending on which notice is served.