The latest EPA report focuses on drinking water from private supplies. It claims that private supplies of water are more likely to be contaminated with E. coli, a dangerous pathogen derived from slurry or sewage. While public water schemes are treated, private wells generally are not, so the EPA recommends that private well users test their water at regular intervals.
The report deals with water quality from 2,676 private water supplies in 2015, including group schemes. It notes that 37% of these water supplies were not monitored at all, including the water supplies to 270 hotels, 99 schools and childcare facilities and 23 nursing homes.
The report does not deal with Ireland's 170,000 private wells, as these are exempt from regulations and responsibility for their quality rests with the householder. According to the report however, where monitoring of these wells has been carried out results indicate that up to 30% of them show E. coli contamination.
The percentages of compliance rates for water standards, based on those monitored in 2015, were as follows:
Private supplies 96.3%
Public Group Water schemes 100%
Private group water schemes 96.1%
Small private supplies 94.8%
As 986 water supplies did not report any monitoring for 2015, the EPA says these figures are really just indications.
The report recommends that anyone with private wells should test their water at least once a year and that private group schemes should be tested twice-yearly. The EPA has an online guide for those with private wells here.
- coli is a bacterium that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded creatures. The presence of E. coli in water usually indicates some kind of fecal contamination. While it is not always a cause of disease, certain virulent strains of the bacterium are associated with serious ailments from gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections to neonatal meningitis. These strains are particularly dangerous for already vulnerable people, including children, the elderly and those with immunity deficiencies.
Well-water quality is directly related to the surrounding environment and can be affected by run-off from slurry spreading or malfunctioning septic tanks. As the water we drink from private wells is taken from underground reservoirs, these can be easily contaminated. This underlines the importance of responsible effluent management for all rural inhabitants. According to the EPA, “Water Quality in Ireland reports that are produced every three years have shown that despite minor variations in each monitoring period, overall levels of pollution remain relatively constant since the beginning of the 1990s.”
As farmers dealing in large quantities of potentially harmful slurry, it is very important that we do not unwittingly poison our drinking water. In any case, inefficient use of slurry leads to nutrient loss which costs money to replace, so it makes sense to minimise run-off by avoiding spreading when heavy rain is forecast. Teagasc has an online guide here.