Private Water Supplies - Case Study 2013/11

Regulation 8 supplies: out of sight out of mind?

This case study concerns the unintentional identification of a Regulation 8 private water supply to 25 properties through the compliance monitoring programme of a water company. On detecting coliforms in a random sample, the company took further samples from the same property and a neighbouring one upstream. Both of these additional samples contained coliforms, so the company investigated further and found that these and other properties were connected to the water supply via a water storage tank that was in a poor hygienic condition with inadequate seals as evidenced by slugs and snails on the roof and walls of the tank, and no overflow insect guard.

Jointly the water company and local authority issued a boil water notice and bottled water was provided until the owners had cleaned the tank and dealt with the ingress points. The local authority wrote to all the householders, but did not serve a Regulation 18 Notice. This decision, based on the fact that a risk assessment had yet to be done and further satisfactory results had been obtained, meant that the owner of the supply was not compelled to complete the remedial work in a reasonable time period. As a consequence the boil water notice remained in place for longer than three months and the management company responsible for the tank was able to defer a decision on a suitable solution to secure the long-term security of the supply (renovation or replacement).

This case demonstrates the lack of historic local authority or water company records about situations where third parties are further distributing water (Regulation 8). Such arrangements pose a high risk because they usually involve a storage structure that is poorly designed or maintained and it is inevitable, therefore, that at some stage water in the tank will become contaminated unbeknown to those using the water for domestic purposes. Joint working to raise the awareness of property management and letting companies of the need to report such water supply arrangements to the water company and the local authority is recommended by the Inspectorate as a way of reducing the risk and avoiding costly incident investigations and remedies.

This case also highlights how informal action by the local authority is frequently ineffective in achieving a timely or permanent remedy. As indicated in an earlier case study it is not acceptable for consumers to be expected to have to boil water for anything other than a short period of time. A Regulation 18 Notice requiring both short-term and long-term remediation with target dates would have gone a long way towards reassuring consumers, and minimising the inconvenience to them by focusing the minds of the relevant persons.