Private Water Supplies - Case Study 2014/10

Remediation of a Regulation 9 borehole supply leading to the creation of a new Regulation 8 supply – an exception to the guidance on Regulation 8 supplies?

This case study relates to a private borehole on a farm estate that also serves 27 residential properties; some owned by the estate, with the remainder in private ownership. Borehole water is pumped to two large reservoirs that provide supplies to each of the properties by gravity. The standby backup supply to the reservoirs was by means of a metered connection to the local mains water supply located within a few metres of the reservoirs.

Monitoring undertaken following the introduction of the new private supply regulations identified that the borehole supply consistently exceeded the standard for fluoride (1,500µg/l) with the highest value recorded as 1,600µg/l and the lowest being 1,540µg/l. Results exceeding the standard for sodium were also recorded. The local authority sought advice from PHE, who in turn consulted the Inspectorate and it was agreed that the local authority should serve a Regulation 18 Notice to require remediation because both fluoride and sodium are health-related standards.

As required by the Notice, the relevant person (the Estate manager) considered the various options for dealing with the situation (treatment, blending, mains supply) and concluded that the most cost effective and reliable method was to feed the reservoirs with mains water. A meeting was held with the local water company about uprating and designing the mains connection to the reservoirs so that it complied with the Fittings Regulations. Following these works, the Estate would be in compliance with the Regulation 18 Notice; however, due to some of the properties being in private ownership, the arrangement would mean that the Estate would be ‘further distributing mains water’ to these privately owned properties thereby creating a new Regulation 8 private supply.

Before confirming the proposal as meeting the requirements of the Regulation 18 Notice, the local authority sought advice from the Inspectorate. As set out in current guidance1 on Regulation 8 supplies, the purpose of the Regulation 8 legislation was to provide a means of dealing with problems of sufficiency or wholesomeness arising from existing supply arrangements involving the onward distribution of mains water. The intention behind the legislation was for this type of indirect mains water supply arrangement to be identified (and where necessary remediated) and prevented from being extended. The ultimate aim of the legislation was to ensure that over time all properties served by a supply of water from the mains would become direct customers of a licensed water company thereby eliminating the risks associated with these hitherto unregulated supply arrangements. This type of historic supply arrangement is usually associated with a lack of clarity regarding ownership, management and control, and the infrastructure is often unsuitable or beyond its useful life. The consequences of these attributes was a growing number of protracted disputes between neighbours with consequential quality and quantity complaints that were seemingly unresolvable by water companies and local authorities.

In this case, the local authority was faced with making a decision that would endorse the creation of a new Regulation 8 private supply, contrary to guidance from the Inspectorate. However, as the purpose of the new Regulation 8 supply was to deal cost effectively with a failing borehole supply that was the subject of a Regulation 18 health-based Notice, and the mains connection was one that was pre-existing, not new, the Inspectorate considered that the local authority had a sound evidence base for endorsing the approach of creating a new Regulation 8 supply. The Inspectorate emphasised the need to ensure that the new Regulation 8 supply met all of the requirements of the Fittings Regulations, there was clarity regarding management and control, including maintenance and costs, and restrictions in place that meant it could not in the future be extended to additional premises.

The Inspectorate also advised that had there been no pre-existing standby mains connection in place, the local authority approach would have needed to be different. The local authority would have needed to require the water company to prepare detailed proposals for the separately owned premises to become direct customers of the water company. If it was then found that all of the associated costs of these proposals could not be met by an agreement between the parties (the Estate, the private premises owners and the water company) then the local authority would be able to revoke the original Regulation 18 Notice, replace it with an equivalent Section 80 Notice for lack of wholesomeness, and then commission the works directly using Section 81 powers, enabling recovery of the unfunded portion of the costs by means of a putting a charge on the properties.

The Inspectorate recommends that water companies and local authorities put in place working procedures for the joint working necessary for local authorities to make use of their Section 81 powers in the Water Industry Act 91, to achieve the national water policy objective (first set out in the Water Act 1945), for a piped mains supply to be accessible to all domestic premises in non-urban areas. As indicated in Chapter 2: Number and nature of private water supplies in England, the Inspectorate is working at national level with Ofwat to eliminate any perceived or actual regulatory barriers to improving and regularising mains water provision in localities where local authorities’ implementation of the private water supplies regulations has provided evidence of need.

1 Current guidance on definition of a Regulation 8 supply was issued by the Drinking Water Inspectorate on 23 April 2013. All previous guidance on Regulation 8 supplies was superseded and should not be used.