The positive downward trend in E.coli in drinking water in recent years continued in 2010, according to a new report released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For the first time, large public drinking water supplies in Ireland show similar compliance levels for E.coli to similar supplies in England and Wales, and the Netherlands. These large supplies provide drinking water to almost three million people in Ireland.
Dara Lynott, deputy director general of EPA, comments: “Remedial works targeted by the EPA in 2008 will be complete in over 80 per cent of supplies by the end of this year. We will continue to target any water supplies that do not meet the highest standards. Ensuring that our drinking water is of the highest quality is vital for public health, for our food industry, for tourism, and for inward investment.”
This is the EPA’s fourth report on drinking water quality since new regulations were introduced in 2007 providing for a greater level of consumer protection. Where there is a potential danger to human health in a drinking water supply, local authorities are required by the regulations to consult with the Health Service Executive (HSE) and notify the EPA. Local authorities are also required to comply with directions given by the EPA.
Almost 250,000 monitoring tests against national and EU standards are carried out to assess the safety of Irish drinking water annually. In relation to the safety of our drinking water, this comprehensive testing regime shows:
* E. coli was detected at least once in 20 out of 929 public water supplies during compliance monitoring in 2010. This figure is down from 27 in 2009 and has fallen every year since 2004.
* 12 per cent of private group water schemes were contaminated at least once during 2010. However, the number of private group water schemes where E. coli was detected fell from 87 in 2009 to 56 in 2010.
* Overall compliance with the chemical standards remained the same at 99 per cent in 2010.
* Trihalomethanes (THM) compliance remains a priority enforcement area for the EPA and exceedences dropped by almost 3 per cent in 2010.
Security of Supply
The EPA identified 339 supplies in need of remedial action in early 2008 and placed them on a Remedial Action List or RAL. 49 per cent (166) have been removed as the necessary remedial actions have been completed. However, a further 67 new supplies were added to the list since 2008. By the end of the year, just over 100 supplies will require the completion of outstanding remedial works to enable them to be removed from the Remedial Action List.
The largest treatment plants on the RAL supply water to over 500,000 persons. These plants are the Vartry Reservoir (supplying parts of Dublin and North Wicklow), Lee Road (supplying Cork City) and Staleen (supplying East Meath and Drogheda). Significant investment will be required to complete the remedial actions specified.
43 new boil water notices and 7 new water restrictions notices (serving approximately 65,000 persons) were put in place by 16 Water Services Authorities in 2010. Adverse weather conditions (freezing) in December 2010 alone led to the imposition of boil water notices on 6 public water supplies (serving approximately 21,000 persons). There was also an increase in the number of precautionary boil water notices put in place while various works on public water supplies were underway.
Nine legally binding directions were issued by the EPA to 7 local authorities in 2010. Galway City Council completed the first Water Safety Plan in Ireland in 2010.
Communication to the Public
The EPA’s assessment found that just over half of the local authorities (19) published some or all of their drinking water quality data. Mayo and Kerry County Councils were found to be providing adequate quality information on their drinking water supplies to the public. The posting of up-to-date monitoring results by local authorities on their websites is important as it allows consumers to gain timely access to information on the quality of their drinking water and reduce public exposure to health risks.
Gerard O’Leary, programme manager at EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement, says: “The public is entitled to know about the quality of their drinking water, which is a matter of public health. The downward trends with problems we are reporting here are very encouraging and those downward trends will continue. Whilst we are very good at monitoring standards of drinking water here in Ireland, all local authorities must continue not only to improve the quality of water but also to become better at providing information to consumers.”