New figures released by the Environmental Protection Agency show that in 2006 Waterford City Council had a ‘good and above average’ rate of compliance with national standards for safe drinking water. Unfortunately, the overall rate of compliance in the Waterford County Council area was ‘below the national average’.
During 2006, Waterford City Council, which serves a population of 41,945 people, carried out analysis on 46 check and 22 audit samples thus complying with the minimum monitoring requirements laid down by the EPA.
At 98.9% the overall rate of compliance in the city with the microbiological and chemical requirements was considered good although there was a drop of 0.5 from the previous year. Compliance with the E.coli and enterococci parametric values was also good with just one of the 68 samples tested failing to reach the standard. This was due to the detection of a single organism.
There was one instance when lead exceedance was detected but this was due to plumbing and was not caused by elevated levels of lead in the water supply. There was also one instance of nitrate exceedance.
The overall rate of compliance in County Waterford was below the national average at 94.2% and was 0.5% below the previous year (2005). The County Council carried out analysis on 245 check and 46 audits during the year but this was insufficient as far as the EPA was concerned.
The County water schemes serve a population of 52,763 people and comprise the County Council’s public water supply plus a number of public group water schemes, private group water schemes and small private supplies.
Compliance values in public water supplies was below the national average at 93.8% and this was mainly due to the failure of two-thirds of the public water supplies monitored (64 out of 99) to comply with the ph standard. The EPA pointed out that ph itself was not a risk to health but it could have a significant effect on the treatment process and on the leaching of metals out of plumbing materials. The County Council should review its monitoring results and install ph correction where necessary, said the EPA.
There were six incidents of E.coli contamination in six water supplies in the Ballyshunnock, Graiguengeeha, Inchileamy, Kilafrehan, Rathgormuck and Tinkock/Tinnabinna supplies. This was a one-third reduction compared to the previous year but, as far as the EPA is concerned, still ‘unacceptably high’.
Furthermore, an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis occurred in December 2006 associated with the Portlaw supply. A total of eight cases of the disease were reported and remedial action was undertaken to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence.
Three of the five private group water schemes and three of the eight private water supplies monitored were found to be contaminated with E.coli. Elevated levels of nitrate were detected in one private group water scheme and one private water supply.
Full compliance was achieved regarding the majority of chemical parameters but there were a small number of instances (6 out of 175) where fluoride exceedances occurred. Of concern to the EPA was the presence of elevated levels of nitrate in five public water supplies and the Adramone, Geoish, Kilmore-Kilbeg, Lismore/Cappoquin/Ballyduff failed to comply with the required standard.
A statement from the EPA insisted that the cause of those failures had to be investigated and appropriate source protection measures undertaken to prevent a reoccurrence.
The EPA now uses new enforcement powers to improve drinking water quality and targets over 300 public water supplies for further enforcement action. This is the EPA’s first report on drinking water quality since the new regulations were introduced in March 2007. They provide a greater level of consumer protection by requiring public water suppliers to notify the EPA and the Health Service Executive where there is a potential risk to human health and to comply with their directions. The report is based on the nationwide results of over 220,000 individual analyses of drinking water samples.
The report found that, nationwide, E. coli was detected at least once in 77 out of 944 public water supplies. This indicates intermittent contamination of over 8 per cent of public water supplies. E. coli was detected in almost 36 per cent of private group water schemes. This means that 246 out of 688 schemes monitored were contaminated at least once during 2006.
Compliance with the required chemical standards was satisfactory for all supplies (99.3 per cent compliance). Since the introduction of the new drinking water regulations the EPA issued 22 binding directions to 12 local authorities in order to restore a clean and wholesome water supply.
The EPA has now identified over 300 public water supplies, representing 36 per cent of all public drinking water supplies, that require detailed profiling from catchment to consumer to determine whether the supply needs to be replaced or upgraded or where operational practices need to be improved to ensure that the water supplied to the general public is clean and wholesome.
The EPA report concludes that sampling of drinking water at the tap provides only a snapshot of the quality of the water supply and cannot be relied on as the sole indicator of a safe and secure drinking water supply.