Private water suppliers must clean up their act

Drinking water supplied by private schemes in Ireland is still often contaminated with E. coli, the benchmark indicator for water quality, according to regulators.

The Irish Environmental Protection Agency has published figures showing that of the 640 private group water schemes monitored in 2005, 232 – over a third – contained the bug.

While the vast majority of Irish households are served by public water schemes, 7%, a significant minority, receive their water from private sources.

The overall compliance rate for the E.coli standard in private group schemes fell marginally from 78% in 2004 to 77.5% in 2005 but the authorities say the figures have been skewed by particularly poor performance in County Mayo, where compliance fell by 16%, and point to the fact that national trends suggest improving water overall.

“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 and the necessary improvements in drinking water quality supplied by these schemes are not happening at a fast enough pace”, said Dr Matthew Crowe, programme manager, EPA’s office of environmental enforcement.

“The relatively moderate drop in the number of schemes contaminated during 2005, while welcome, is not nearly sufficient. A seismic shift is required in the pace of change for improvement of drinking water quality from private group schemes.

“To force the pace on this issue, sanitary authorities should concentrate their enforcement efforts on private group schemes that consistently breach the drinking water standards. It is simply not acceptable that consumers of drinking water from these schemes be provided with consistently poor quality drinking water”.

The vast majority of public water schemes are providing water which satisfies regulatory standards, with a general rule being that the bigger the provider, the better the water quality.

The best water was supplied by larger public water supplies such as Dublin,Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.

The quality of drinking water supplied by sanitary authorities was satisfactory in 2005 – the overall rate of compliance with drinking water standards was 97.6% for drinking water produced and distributed by sanitary authorities, the same as that for 2004.

Sanitary authorities provided drinking water to 83% of the population.

The EPA report highlights the fact that many sanitary authorities are not carrying out sufficient monitoring of public water supplies and group water schemes and an insufficient number of samples were taken to satisfy the requirements of the regulations.

In this regard, 9% of public water supplies, 65% of public group water schemes and 41% of private group water schemes were either not adequately monitored or not monitored at all.

Dr Crowe said, “Both the number of samples taken and the parameters tested must be increased to provide a true picture of the quality of drinking water.

“The high number of supplies not monitored even once during the year is putting the health of people served by these supplies at risk, as they may be consuming contaminated water but are unaware of it. ”

The report can be seen online on the EPA’s website.

David Gibbs

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