Water quality


Water that is provided for your consumption – drinking, preparing food, making ice, making drinks with water and brushing teeth is known as ‘drinking water’.

You can get drinking water from two different sources. Water from lakes, rivers and streams (surface water) will usually have to be treated to make it safe to drink. Water from springs and boreholes (groundwater) may have to be treated, depending on the quality of its source.

You can read information from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on drinking water quality and the Health Service Executive (HSE) also has information about drinking water and health issues. Uisce Éireann has published FAQs on water quality.

You can find information from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on bottled water. The EPA publishes information on bathing water.

Lead and drinking water

Lead is a danger to your health, and especially dangerous for young children, pregnant women and babies fed on formula, so water for drinking and cooking should contain as little lead as possible. Sometimes, lead can be in drinking water, as lead piping, lead solder and lead-lined water tanks were often used in plumbing in the past and your water may travel through these older plumbing systems. The legal level of lead in drinking water is 10 micrograms per litre.

If you think there might be lead in your drinking water, you can contact Uisce Éireann for advice. If you do not get your water from Uisce Éireann, contact your group scheme or your local authority.

If you are from a low-income household you may be able to get a grant scheme help with the cost of remediating domestic lead piping.

You can read the joint position paper on lead in drinking water (pdf) from the HSE and the EPA, along with their FAQs. A national strategy to reduce lead exposure (pdf) has been published.

Other factors affecting water quality

Factors that can affect the quality of your drinking water sources (raw water) include:

  • The type of soil
  • The underlying ground
  • Agricultural practices
  • High rainfall (for example, extra organic material can wash into rivers and streams)
  • Low rainfall can dry up water sources

Factors that can affect treated drinking water (finished water) include:

  • Breakdown in the treatment process
  • Lack of disinfection and filtration (or problems with them)
  • Problems with equipment
  • Power outages or dirt in distribution pipes

Sometimes, poor quality water is caused by the water being drawn from an unsuitable source and the best solution is finding an alternative source.

You can find information about water pollution on the ENFO website.

Contaminated water

Infectious diseases caused by bacteria (like E Coli - also known as VTEC) and parasites (like Cryptosporidium (pdf)) are the most significant health risks associated with contaminated drinking water. These infectious diseases are very dangerous to children, older people, pregnant women and people whose immune systems are compromised. If your water changes in the colour, taste or smell it may be contaminated. However, sometimes the water can be contaminated without these changes.

Septic tanks

Your water could be contaminated by a leakage from a septic tanks or other domestic wastewater treatment systems- see Is your well at risk from your septic tank? (pdf). If you have a domestic wastewater treatment system such as a septic tank, you must register it for an inspection. You must then make sure that any necessary repairs are carried out, following the inspection.

Read more in our document on inspection of septic tanks and other domestic wastewater treatment systems and on the EPA's website.

Treatment of drinking water

Most water supplies need to be treated to bring them up to the standards required – read about these standards below.

Groundwater can be of high quality but this depends on the soil and rock formation and on the agricultural practices near the source. It may only need precautionary disinfection.

Surface waters almost always contain impurities and must be removed by a suitable treatment process, including coagulation, filtration and chlorination.

Under the Fluoridation of Water Supplies Regulations 2007 (SI 42/2007) fluoride is added to the water in all public supplies.

Standards and monitoring

All water that is for humans to consume must be free from micro-organisms and any substances that would endanger public health. These standards are contained in the European Union (Drinking Water) Regulations 2014 and the the EU Drinking Water Directive of 1988 Irish law.

These laws create strict quality standards for water used for human consumption and set out the level of different physical, bacteriological and chemical contaminants allowed in water. Not all of these are monitored at the same frequency.

The EPA has published detailed handbooks on the implementation of the Regulations in private water supplies and public water supplies.

Monitoring of drinking water supplies

How water supplies standards are monitored depends on their size and on whether or not they supply water to the public.

Large supplies (supplying more than 50 people or producing more than 10 cubic metres of water a day) and small supplies that provide water to the public (such as businesses, schools or social clubs) must both meet the standards, but only the large supplies are monitored under the Regulations.

It is up to the owner of the supply to make sure that small supplies meet the standards. At present, over 10% of consumers in Ireland get their drinking water from such unregulated supplies, the quality of which is not officially monitored.

The EPA’s drinking water reports show that the quality of water in regulated water supplies is high.

Public water supplies

The EPA is the supervisory authority for public water supplies. Uisce Éireann is responsible for monitoring such supplies and for informing the EPA of non-compliant water monitoring results. Your local authority prepares short-term and long-term plans to address the problem, for approval by the EPA. The EPA has legal enforcement powers if appropriate action is not taken.

Private water supplies

Private water supplies include private group water schemes, public group water schemes and other private supplies such as a water supply owned by a developer. This category also includes small supplies that provide water to the public.

A private group water scheme is one where the entire water supply (including the source, treatment plant and distribution network) is owned by a group of community trustees. These are commonly members of the National Federation of Group Water Schemes.

A public group water scheme is where the water comes from a public drinking water supply but the distribution system is owned by a group water scheme.

Local authorities often monitor private supplies on behalf of their owners or trustees. Some of them employ the HSE to test the water quality and some do it themselves. The trustees or owners of the supply pay the local authority for this service.

The local authority is the supervisory authority over private water supplies. They have the same role that the EPA has for public supplies. If a private water supply falls below the EC standards, the local authority notifies the trustees of the scheme or the owners. The trustees or owners must submit an action programme to the local authority which will address the problem within a certain timescale. The local authority has legal enforcement powers if appropriate action is not taken.

The HSE is informed if there is a potential danger to human health from all regulated water supplies (public and private) The HSE agrees remedial actions with the local authority for the protection of public health.

Monitoring of small water schemes and wells

As noted above, for group water schemes that do not supply more than 50 people or produce more than 10 cubic metres of water per day, the same standards apply but the quality is not monitored under the Regulations. Whoever is responsible for the scheme is responsible for monitoring the water quality.

Similarly, if your water supply comes from a private well, you are responsible for monitoring the quality of your own supply. You must bear the cost of the testing yourself and if your supply is contaminated, you must organise and pay for any treatment that is needed.

The HSE publishes detailed information on the risk of illness from well water (pdf). It recommends that wells should be tested at least once a year for microbial contamination, and at least once every 3 years for chemical contamination. It also publishes information on the risks of switching from a public to a private water supply (pdf).

To get your water supply checked, contact the local authority or HSE Environmental Health Officer in the first instance. Alternatively, you can arrange to have a sample tested using a private laboratory. It is not recommended that you take a water sample yourself as equipment has to be sterile.

The EPA has published extensive information for householders on protecting private wells.

Enforcement of standards

The EPA is the supervisory authority for public water supplies and the local authority is the supervisory authority for private supplies. This means that they can legally enforce the standards set out in the Regulations if agreed actions on a regulated water supply have not been taken within the agreed timescale.

A notice (or Direction) can be served (by the EPA on Uisce Éireann or by the local authority on private owners or trustees) to prepare a programme to improve the water supply to the necessary standard as soon as possible.

Owners and trustees of private supplies must prepare their action programme in consultation with the local authority.

If you are part of a group water scheme, it must fit in with the county’s strategic rural water plan under the Rural Water Programme, outlined below. Advice can be obtained from the National Federation of Group Water Schemes.

The owners or trustees must submit the programme to the local authority within 2 months of receiving the notice. It should contain the following information:

  • A description of the quality issues to be dealt with
  • Details of the changes put forward to bring the water supply up to drinking water standards
  • Whether a capital grant under the Rural Water Scheme is needed
  • A timeframe for the achievement of drinking water standards
  • Details of the management or operational changes that may have been made to bring the scheme into compliance with drinking water standards.

If the programme is not produced within 2 months, the person on whom the notice was served is guilty of an offence under the Regulations. On summary conviction in a District Court, they could be liable to a fine and/or a prison sentence.

Agencies involved with water quality

Various public agencies have important roles to play, as follows:

Uisce Éireann and local authorities

Uisce Éireann is responsible for maintaining the public water supplies and ensuring the quality of the water it distributes. Local authorities are the supervisory authority for the water quality of private water supplies that are monitored under the Regulations. They also perform certain functions on behalf of Uisce Éireann under service level agreements. See our document on Water supply.

If a water supply constitutes a danger to human health, Uisce Éireann must take action to protect public health. It does this in consultation with and with the agreement of the HSE. It may issue a ‘Drinking Water Restriction Notice’. Alternatively it may issue a ‘Boil Water Notice’, warning that the water supply is not safe for human consumption unless boiled first. It must ensure that the public are made aware of the dangers as soon as possible.

If you get your water from the public mains system and have doubts about its quality, this may be due to deficiencies in your own plumbing system. If so, you are responsible for fixing the problem. A group water scheme that gets its water from the public mains system is also responsible for maintaining its own equipment.

However, if the problem is with the public mains system, this is the responsibility of Uisce Éireann, which works with local authorities to respond to emergencies relating to water mains leaks and pollution incidents.

Rural Water Programme and monitoring committees

The local authorities administer the Rural Water Programme, which aims to improve the quality and efficiency of group water schemes, small public water and sewerage schemes, and private supplies where no alternative group or public supply is available.

Each county has a strategic rural water plan, pinpointing areas needing improvement and deciding how to make the most of grants and subsidies available for improving and maintaining water supply systems. Local authorities have compiled an inventory of group schemes and take note of the quality of their water supply. The overall aim of the plan must be to deliver water as efficiently and effectively as possible.

An Fóram Uisce monitors and advises on the development and implementation of policy on the Rural Water Programme. There are local committees in each county to enable water consumers to have a say in how the Programme is implemented. Each local authority has a County Liaison Officer to deal with day-to-day issues brought up by the Programme’s implementation.

Health Service Executive (HSE)

Under the Regulations, the HSE must be informed whenever poor water quality poses a potential danger to human health. The local authority then prepares an action programme in consultation with and with the agreement of the HSE.

In some areas, the Environmental Health section in the Local Health Office monitors water supplies on behalf of the local authority to make sure that all water sources meet the required public health standards. The HSE is also responsible for monitoring the fluoride content of public water supplies.

The HSE can also (for a fee) analyse water from a private source, such as a well. The fee cannot be more than the cost of the monitoring.

As noted above, the HSE also publishes advice and guidance on the dangers to human health caused by poor water quality.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The EPA collects information from Uisce Éireann about the monitoring of regulated water supply schemes and produces a yearly report on the quality of drinking water in Ireland. It has enforcement powers in relation to the drinking water quality of public water supplies. These powers require Uisce Éireann to notify the EPA (as well as the HSE) where there is a potential risk to human health and to comply with their directions.

Useful contacts for water quality related issues

If you have concerns about the quality of your public water supply, contact Uisce Éireann’s Help Centre immediately.

If you have concerns about the quality of your private water supply, contact your local authority immediately. It will give you information on dealing with contaminated water and on grant assistance for upgrading and maintaining private water distribution systems.

To get your private water supply tested, contact your local authority; the Environmental Health section of your Local Health Office; or a private laboratory.

Irish Water Customer Care |Team

PO Box 860
South City Delivery office
Cork City

Opening Hours: Lines open 24 hours 7 days a week
Tel: (01) 707 2828
Locall: 1850 278 278

Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

Custom House
Dublin 1
D01 W6X0

Tel: (01) 888 2000
Locall: 1890 202 021

National Federation of Group Water Schemes

24 Old Cross Square

Tel: +353 (0)47 72766
Fax: +353 (0)47 72788

Environmental Protection Agency

PO Box 3000
Johnstown Castle Estate

Tel: (053) 916 0600
Locall: 0818 33 55 99
Fax: (053) 916 0699
Page edited: 30 May 2023