Private Water Supplies

Published date13 February 2024
Subject MatterEnvironment, Energy and Natural Resources, Environmental Law, Water
Law FirmForsters
AuthorJayne Beardmore

About one percent of the population rely on a private water supply, where water is drawn from a borehole, well, spring, lake, stream or river to service their properties. A borehole is likely the most common method for domestic properties.

There are extensive regulations surrounding a private water supply, these are contained in the Private Water Supplies Regulations 2016, which focus on the quality of water, and the Water Resources Act 1991, which focusses quantity and supply. Local authorities have wide powers to enforce these regulations, and breaching them, or abstracting water without a licence can be a criminal offence.

Relevant persons:

Responsibility for the quality and quantity of private water supplies lies with the owners/occupiers of the property serviced by the water supply, the owners/occupiers of the property where the water supply is sourced, or any other person who has management or control of the water supply. The law identifies these people as 'relevant persons'.

Understandably, there is a requirement for a water supply to meet basic regulatory standards, ensuring that it is safe for use and consumption at all times. This is measured by testing the number of contaminants in the water and depends on the size and nature of the supply.

1. Commercial supplies (including supplies to a number of dwellings):

These are defined as supplies of a daily average of over 10m3 or to either public or commercial premises. Properties let to third parties also fall under this category. Risk assessments must be carried out at least every 5 years and a water test must be carried out at least annually. If it is determined that a supply is a danger to human health, a local authority has a duty to warn the occupants of the property and advise how to minimise the danger.

2. Standard private supplies:

This is a supply to any premises, other than a single dwelling, not used for commercial purposes. Again, these are subject to 5-yearly risk assessments and an annual test, however, a narrower number of contaminants are tested.

3. Single dwelling supplies:

Single dwellings that are not used for any commercial activity. In this case, a risk assessment is required only, and the supply is monitored, if requested by the owner or occupier of the property.

4. Distributed mains supplies:

These are rare, but occur where water is supplied by a mains provider and then further distributed through a private water network. Risk assessments are still required, even though the...

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