Private Water Supplies - Case Study 2014/12

Action in the event of a failure at a single domestic dwelling

This case study relates to a rural supply fed from a spring directly to a farmhouse, and a farm on which only the resident farmer works, therefore constituting a single domestic dwelling. There is no treatment on the supply, and the farmer approached the local authority to take a sample to satisfy the farm assurance scheme he was part of.

The local authority sampled in September 2013 and the result showed that the supply contained E.coli, although no Enterococci were found in the sample. The local authority sought advice from the Inspectorate as to whether they should deal with this failure through advice as described in Regulation 16 where a single domestic dwelling is involved, or whether they should serve a Notice as a risk to health had been confirmed?

The Inspectorate confirmed that both options were available to the authority, unless the farm had other employees who used the water, or if it was used in the manufacture of food. Although neither of these circumstances existed, the local authority decided to serve a Regulation 18 Notice. However the Notice only required the farmer to boil the water before use. The Regulations specify certain minimum requirements that must be contained in a Notice:

  • Information about the private supply to which it relates (a supply having been confirmed by magistrates as comprising the entire supply system, including all sources, treatment and distribution system).
  • The grounds for serving the Notice (for example, a sample failure, a risk to health identified during risk assessment, etc.).
  • Options to prohibit or restrict the supply (these will vary depending on the nature of the risk; is it chemical or microbiological contamination?).
  • What action is necessary to protect human health.

In this instance, although boiling the water is a good health protection measure for microbiological contamination, this is only ever a short-term measure to protect public health. Notices must contain longer term remediation actions required to deliver sustainable improvements to failing water supplies. The Regulations also require a Notice to be revoked once there is no longer a risk to health. In the case of a Notice which only requires the relevant person to boil the water, appropriate criteria should be used to determine when the risk is no longer present. A single satisfactory sample result is inadequate to demonstrate the risk has been removed, especially if no remedial work has been carried out.

In the case of a single domestic dwelling, or even a small shared supply, opportunities to confirm that other actions have been taken are few and far between. However, having served a Notice, the local authority ultimately needed to confirm if it could revoke the Notice, affording it the opportunity to check progress.