Drinking water quality remains high across Northern Ireland, says report

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The safety and quality of drinking water in Northern Ireland remains high, according to a Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) Annual Report for 2020.

The Drinking Water Inspectorate operates as a business unit within the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), part of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). It has an independent responsibility to assess and regulate drinking water quality for both public and private water supplies against the regulatory requirements.

Northern Ireland Water Limited (NI Water)  is solely responsible for the supply and distribution of public drinking water and must undertake a stringent monitoring programme to verify that the tap water it supplies to consumers meets all the quality standards set by the drinking water regulations.

DWI, which is responsible for regulating drinking water quality, outlines in the report that overall compliance for the mains water supply in 2020 was 99.94%. In 2020, over 91,000 tests were completed, and the results are based on samples taken from water treatment works, service reservoirs and consumers’ taps.

Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA, commented on the report: “The importance of safe drinking water has been highlighted particularly during the COVID-19 response and pathway to recovery.

“It is critical for our health, for front line services, for farming, industry and our economy. This latest report reassures consumers that the standard of our drinking water remains consistently high.”

NI Water must manage risks within the water supply system and this should be supported by an appropriately funded investment programme. This is critical to ensure that overall compliance is maintained or improved and high quality drinking water is secured both now and for future generations.

A small percentage of water is also supplied from private water supplies in Northern Ireland. There were 175 registered private water supplies monitored in Northern Ireland in 2020, an overall increase of one from 2019.

A number of these supplies serve public buildings, such as hospitals and health care premises, universities, and businesses such as food manufacturers, hotels and restaurants.

Extensive monitoring is undertaken of registered private water supplies by local councils on behalf of DWI, with almost 15,000 tests conducted in 2020.

The new report indicates that the overall compliance figure of 99.24% at private water supplies is slightly lower than that reported for the public water supply.

The report provides a breakdown of what these supplies are used for and the issues experienced throughout 2020. It outlines the challenges faced by businesses to ensure their drinking water supply was safe prior to re-opening, as well as those who experienced increased production during the year.

Minister Poots added: “The Department will continue to work with NI Water and the owners and users of private water supplies to ensure continued improvement in drinking water quality in Northern Ireland. This will ensure, that public health remains a priority whilst supporting economic growth.”

The annual report is available on the DAERA website.