In this guide the experts at Water Treatment Services consider the rules and regulations for testing private water supplies, and look at who’s responsible for ensuring the water coming from these supplies is safe to drink.
The guide explains what a private water supply is, the role of the Drinking Water Inspectorate and how they categorise different supplies; it examines who’s responsible for ensuring water safety, common contaminants and the benefits of water testing.
What is a private water supply?
A private water supply describes any water supply that is not provided by a water company.
In England and Wales these private water sources serve around 1% of the population.
Most of these are located in remote, rural areas and can come from various sources such as wells, boreholes, natural springs, and private watercourses.
Without specialist testing it’s not possible to tell whether the water you drink is safe or contaminated
Testing private water supplies
Providing a safe water supply for people to use is a crucial part of minimising any contamination risk associated with that supply.
Public water supplies are rigorously tested to ensure the quality of the water we receive in our homes and businesses is safe use.
However, it is just as important to know you can trust the quality of the water that comes from a private water supply.
Regular water testing forms an essential part of this process.
The role of the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI)
The Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) was created in 1990 to safeguard the quality and safety of water supplies throughout England and Wales.
While all drinking water is covered by European Council Directive 98/83EC, England, Wales, and Scotland each have their own regulations connected to this EU Directive.
In every case, however, regular testing is required to ensure the water supply in use does not pose a health risk to those who are exposed to it.
Proper water testing has many benefits and must be done to comply with the law.
Who’s responsible for ensuring private water supplies are safe?
The various local authorities across the country are responsible for ensuring private water supplies are safe for human consumption.
However, in many cases, only the largest and best-known private water supplies are recognised and tested by local councils each year.
If you have access to a private water supply that only you use, or that is small in scale such as a well or borehole, the local authority may not be aware of it.
In every case, however, regular testing must be done to ensure the quality and safety of that private water supply.
In England and Wales around 1% of the population use private water supplies
Local authorities will typically test water supplies at least once every five years and more often if their risk assessment calls for it.
Without such testing, it is often not possible to tell whether the water you drink is safe or whether it could be contaminated and cause significant harm.
By the time you find out your supply doesn’t meet the standards required, it could have caused you and others who use the supply to suffer from a waterborne illness.
Why test private water supplies?
Private water supplies can contain bugs, bacteria, and other potentially nasty substances.
The catch-all term “substances”, can include faeces – either from nearby animals, perhaps farm animals for example, or even from humans.
Either way, they increase the chances that dangerous bacteria will be present that may harm those drinking the contaminated water.
Proper testing of the water can discover whether faeces has caused contamination.
Faeces contain E. coli bacteria, so if this is found in the water sample, it confirms this type of contamination has occurred.
Other bugs can also potentially show up when testing private water supplies if they find a way to get into them.
A standard suite of water tests would typically include for the following parameters although others can be included:
Even if the water looks clear and you cannot see anything obvious floating in it, there could potentially be lots of harmful bacteria in it.
This could cause illness that presents with various symptoms, from mild to severe – symptoms that are often indicative of an upset stomach or stomach bug.
Laboratory testing provides a practical and reliable way to find out what is in a private water supply.
Regular water testing should therefore be performed by experienced professionals who know what to look for.
Hydrogen ions (pH) and the turbidity of the water should also be checked.
Testing for turbidity can detect whether the water exhibits any cloudiness that could indicate the presence of foreign matter in the supply.
Are there rules to follow when testing water from private sources?
The DWI indicates there are four regulations covering these private water supplies.
There is some difference in the regulations between England and Wales; however, we have provided a guide to the regulations for England below:
For more guidance you should refer to the DWI guidance document dealing with private water supplies.
It is therefore important to know which regulation you would need to apply when testing a private water supply.
Professional water testing services such as those provided by Water Treatment Services will ensure the applicable regulation is adhered to.
How to test private water supplies
The process of testing a private water supply comprises two parts:
All water samples should be below the Prescribed Concentration Values (PCVs) in force in each country.
It is important to note the values are slightly different in England, Scotland, and Wales.
Therefore, making sure the supply meets local requirements is of paramount importance.
Why is proper testing from an accredited provider recommended?
An accredited provider will have the necessary tools and testing equipment to take samples and analyse them accurately.
The testing will highlight whether any bacteria are present in the water, and if so, at what levels.
The owner or operator of the private water supply can then be certain the supply meets all the necessary safety requirements and poses no danger to public health – no matter how many or how few people use that private water supply.
Professional laboratory testing of private water supplies
Water Treatment Services offer a comprehensive range of drinking water testing and laboratory analysis solutions to support owners and managers of private water supplies.
Our experts can provide advice and support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for the safe management of your drinking water supplies.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained technicians, in-field specialists and consultants we can offer professional, cost effective water testing and laboratory analysis solutions across the whole of the UK and internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our expert water quality analysis services can help you keep your water safe.
More information about the water quality regulations produced by the DWI.