What is a private water supply?

A private water supply is any water supply which is not provided by a water utility company (for example United Utilities).

A source of the water supply may come from:

  • boreholes
  • wells
  • springs
  • rivers or steams
  • lakes or ponds
  • rainwater or grey water harvesting
  • a private distribution system (mains water which is privately distributed by a second party)

The water supply may serve just one property, several properties or commercial premises. It is essential that private water supplies are maintained in order to minimise any risk to health.

The Regulations

The Private Water Supplies (England) Regulations 2016 as amended apply to everybody who owns or uses water from a private water supply intended for human consumption. This includes domestic purposes (for example, drinking, cooking, food preparation) and commercial purposes (for example, food production, holiday homes, bed and breakfast accommodation, caravan and camp sites).

The regulations seek to safeguard public health by ensuring that private water supplies are wholesome and safe to drink. There are set standards for water quality and local authorities have a duty to ensure these standards are achieved. This objective is met by the local authority by providing sampling and monitoring of private water supplies.

Unlike mains water supplies, private supplies may not be treated to remove contamination. It is not possible to tell whether water is safe as contamination may not show as smell, taste or colour of the water.

Role of the Local Authority

Wirral Council has a duty to check the wholesomeness of water obtained from private supplies and are required to sample and analyse the water from these supplies.

The Regulations affect all private supplies although those serving a single dwelling will only be risk assessed and sampled upon request, unless these are newly installed supplies.

How to register your private water supply

The Regulations require Wirral Council to keep a record of all private water supplies within their district.

Once your private water supply is registered, we use this information to ensure that the water supply is monitored sufficiently.

Councils are consulted on many activities, such as planning applications, which could affect private water supplies if these activities are located close to the source of the supply. It is therefore important that we are aware of the location of the private water supplies so we can access this information when making a decision.

Register a private water supply

Email the registration form to the Environmental Health Department: environmentalhealth@wirral.gov.uk

or by post:

Environmental Health, Wirral Council, PO Box 290, Brighton Street, Wallasey, Wirral CH27 9FQ.

Classification of private water supplies

Private water supplies fall into one of four categories, each requiring different levels of monitoring by local authorities.

Commercial and larger domestic supplies

All supplies of any size that are supplied as part of a commercial or public activity and large domestic private supplies serving 50 or more people a day. These supplies require sampling at least once a year and a risk assessment undertaken every five years.

Small supplies

A water supply serving two or more premises; produces less than 10 m³ of water and is not used for commercial purposes. These supplies require sampling and a risk assessment every five years.

Small single supplies

A water supply that serves only one private domestic property where no commercial activity takes place. These supplies will only be sampled and risk assessed at the owner’s request.

Private distribution systems

Water supplied by United Utilities which is further distributed by third party pipes, for example caravan and camp sites. These supplies require a risk assessment every five years and sampling at a frequency dependent of the outcome of the risk assessment.

Risk assessment

The regulations require each supply (excluding single private domestic dwellings) to undergo a risk assessment every five years, to determine how regularly the supply needs to be tested and for which parameters.

A risk assessment is a check on the condition of the supply. It involves looking at the source of the supply, the surrounding area and anticipating what might lead to contamination.

It will also involve looking at storage tanks, pipe work and treatment systems. The risk assessment identifies any actual and potential hazards that may affect the health of those drinking the water, so that improvements can be made to ensure the quality of the water supply and safeguard the health of those using it.

Risk assessments will normally be carried out by prior appointment by a local authority officer. On completion of the risk assessment we will explain how often the supply needs to be sampled, based on the risks identified. You will receive the risk assessment report and a copy will be retained for 30 years by the council. Every five years the risk assessment will be reviewed.

Sampling

Wirral Council is responsible for ensuring sampling is completed according to legislation.

Untreated water can contain microorganisms or chemical contamination caused by the ground through which it has run. These may not be detectable by taste or smell. We will assess the water from both chemical and microbiological parameters as stated in the regulations.

The Regulations also require the authority to sample, when necessary, for Radon, Gross Alpha, Gross Beta, Tritium and to calculate the Indicative Dose. This is only for supplies that may have a potential risk of contamination, ie from geology or from man-made contamination.

Samples from private water supplies will normally be taken from a consumer tap and then sent for analysis at an approved laboratory. The sampling frequency and the extent of analysis needed will depend on the results of the risk assessment.

The results of the sampling will be forwarded to you with a letter, usually within 28 days of us receiving them from the laboratory. The letter will explain the results and inform you if any remedial action is required to safeguard your supply.

If we take a routine sample from a private water supply and it fails to meet the national drinking water standards, we will contact the affected properties and provide advice.

If the supply is considered to be hazardous to health, for example, as a result of certain bacteria being present within the sample, then:

  • we will notify all users on that supply of failure and provide advice on any action to be taken, for example, to boil water before use;
  • we may carry out an investigation to identify the cause of the failure;
  • we will serve Notice on the person(s) responsible for the supply. This will detail the action that needs to be undertaken to restore the water quality to the required level. Failure to comply with the Notice may result in prosecution. Once the water quality is at the required level, we will notify all the users of the supply.

How to keep your supply safe

All parts of your supply should be routinely monitored and inspected to ensure that it is in good working order and has not been interfered with or damaged. The supply needs to be appropriately protected throughout, from source to point of use. This should include a maintenance programme to clean the distribution system and storage tanks and to ensure all treatment works are working as they should according to manufacturer’s guidelines.

Any products or treatment used on the supply must be featured on the DWI list of approved products.

Fees

Wirral Council will charge the costs of carrying out their duties under these regulations to those responsible for the supply.

Wirral Council charges a fee for the collection and analysis of the routine water quality samples we are required to take.

There is a fee for undertaking the risk assessment survey which we are required to carry out every five years.

Where the water supply serves more than one property, the cost will be split between the properties using the supply.

Further guidance on the Private Water Supplies (England) Regulations 2016 is available at Drinking Water Inspectorate