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COVID 19 - Reinstating a supply after period of disuse or reduced demand

Covid-19 has affected all our lives.  Businesses and second homes have had to remain empty during periods of lockdown.  If you own a business or home served by a private water supply it is important to consider the following before consuming water from a supply that has not been regularly used:

  • Checks of pipes and fitting for signs of ingress, leaks & biofouling and to check if treatments are working normally
  • A review of current water demand and the capacity of tanks and treatments
  • Thorough flushing of the distribution network to renew water stored in tanks and pipework.  Flushing should be extended to all affected points of use (showers, taps and toilets)
  • Purging the water source itself may be required if inactive for a significant period
  • Disinfection of the distrubution system where appropriate by a suitably trained plumber or water engineer
  • An evaulation of any communal drinking water points in relation the risk posed by Covid-19

Please note - Any resumption of business activity should be done in adherence with the latest government regulations and advice regarding Covid-19 visit the website at www.GOV.UK

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Industry specific guidance for the maintenance and operation of water systems, along with a variety of generic advice for the management of private water supplies, is available through the Drinking Water Inspectorate's (DWI) website DWI and you may wish to consult with a water treatment company. 

The DWI state that it is the duty of those supplying water to the members of the public to make sure the water is wholesome for domestic purposes; such as drinking, washing, preparing and cooking food.

During periods of reduced water use or suspension of a supply, the quality of water stored in water infrastructure, such as tanks, pipework and even your water source, can become impaired.  Deterioration of your water could take place in any part of the supply network.

Any private water supply used for commercial purposes (B&Bs, holiday lets, restaurants, caravan sites, etc, or for multiple dwellings), require routine sampling and periodic risk assessments by Torridge District Council's Environmental Protection team, who can be contacted at environmental.protection@torridge.gov.uk 

What is a private water supply?

This is water supplied to homes and businesses that is not provided by a water company, such as South West Water.  Most private water supplies are in rural locations and are from wells, boreholes, springs or streams.  Approximately 1% of the population in England and Wales has a private water supply to their homes.  We keep a register of over 500 properties served by private water supplies in Torridge.

Safe drinking water is essential to good health - private water supplies are monitored because they may not be properly protected or treated and can become contaminated with bacteria and chemicals.

Private Water Supplies Regulations 2016?

These regulations cover all private water supplies and private distributions systems.  They supersede the Private Water Supplies Regulations 2009 and apply to water used for domestic purposes;  for example drinking, cooking, food preparation and washing, and also for water used for commercial purposes, such as hotels and restaurants.

Supplies are categorised into four groups:

  1. Single private dwellings that are owner occupied
  2. Small domestic supplies (more than one dwelling) supplying fewer than 50 people
  3. Private distribution systems where mains water is supplied to a person or business and then distributed by that person or business to other buildings, domiciles, draw-off points etc using private pipes or tanks - this can include caravan parks
  4. Large domestic supplies supplying over 50 people or serving commercial premises, including B&B's, holiday lets and residential tenancies

Risk assessments

The regulations require the council to carry out a risk assessment of private water supplies every five years (other than a supply that only serves a single dwelling - see below).  We take into account the source of the water, how it reaches the consumer and the number of people using it.  We also take into account whether the water is for domestic or commercial use, and in particular if it is used for food preparation.  The risk assessment involves surveying the supply to identify potential contamination, identifying possible prevention measures and treatment options. This helps us decide how to monitor the supply and how often.

Sampling requirements

Water should be tested on a regular basis for a range of chemicals and micro-organisms that might cause an unpleasant taste or smell, or could affect the health of the person drinking it.  We also test for some substances which may not be harmful in themselves but could indicate that a more serious problem exists.

  1. Single private dwellings (owner occupied): Single private dwellings do not require routine monitoring or a risk assessment.  However, we recommend supplies are regularly checked and we can sample or risk assess at the owners request
  2. Small domestic supplies: The amount of monitoring required by the council will depend on the outcome of the risk assessment.  However, it will be a minimum of once every five years. Supplies will be sampled for basic parameters and anything else that arises from the risk assessment
  3. Private distribution systems: Monitoring must be carried out according to the outcome of the risk assessment
  4. Large supplies or commercial premises: The council will undertake sampling for a range of chemical, microbiology and metal parameters

The Council will make a charge to cover the cost of carrying out risk assessments and sampling and any other duties under these Regulations - see Fees & Charges

Dairies

The DWI issued interim guidance in March 2011 for milking parlours served by a small private water supply.  This recommends that at the present time local authorities do not need to carry out sampling or a risk assessment where a private water supply serves only a milking parlour, or a milking parlour and a single dwelling, providing there is no other commercial use, no other relevant food activity and no public activity or building.  Water sampling may be necessary to assure milk quality and safety and will be sampled on request.  The DWI will be reviewing this guidance.

What happens if the supply fails the required standard?

If a private water supply is tested and does not meet the standard, we may advise boiling water, or use bottled water until changes have been made to improve the water supply.  Please note, you should refer to the advice of the Food Standards Agency before giving bottled water to babies.

Recommended actions to improve the supply may include:

  • fencing off the area around a spring to prevent animals from causing contamination
  • creating an exclusion zone around a spring or a well so that fertilisers are not spread in the area
  • improving drainage around the source of the supply
  • replacing pipework

It may be necessary to install treatment to remove or lower the level of particular substances, for example:

  • ultra violet filters to destroy bacteria such as E.coli
  • acidity regulator
  • reverse Osmosis filters to remove aluminium or nitrates
  • iron and Manganese filters
  • filters to remove lead

We may need to investigate the cause of sample failures that give rise to health concerns.  This can be substituted by a risk assessment being carried out.

Notices

If a supply is badly contaminated the Council might serve a formal Notice to prevent the water from being consumed until work has been carried out to improve the water quality to a required standard. Failure to comply with the notices may result in either works in default or prosecution in a Magistrates Court. Appeals can be made to the Magistrates Court or the Secretary of State depending on which notice is served.

Authorisations

We can serve an authorisation to allow failed supplies to continue whilst works are carried out to achieve compliance.  Authorisations may only be granted for failures that do not constitute a health risk (usually chemical parameters).  Before we issue one, we will consult all water users and the Health Authority and take their views into account. We will inform them of the authorisation and its conditions and provide advice to those that may be at greater risk, for example parents of babies.  We will review authorisations from time to time to ensure sufficient progress is being made towards improvement.

Who will be charged?

The council will apply a charge to any relevant person requesting a risk assessment, sampling or other activity - see Fees & charges

Otherwise fees are payable as specified in the invoice, by the relevant person as defined in section 80(7) of the Water Industry Act 1991.  This may be the owner or occupier of the property served by the supply, the owners and occupiers of the premises where the source is situated or any other person who exercises powers of management or control in relation to the source.

Where more than one person is liable the Council may divide the charge between them;  this may be the case for small domestic supplies where the owners share maintenance costs and do not pay anyone for supplying them with water. This may depend on any agreement or other document shown to the local authority relating to the terms under which water is supplied.

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