Row of cows at farm in Shropshire

Pure and simple: potable water

14/03/23Pure and simple: potable water

The UK water industry operates under very strict measures when it comes to water supply. This is important for water that is used by both people and animals. Current testing relies on strict government standards that are enforced by the regulator, the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI). While most of us rely on a mains water supply to provide our water, in rural areas some residents will have a private source. This will be drawn from below ground or from surface water, and will not have been scientifically tested in any way.

A private source

If you have a private water supply, it’s important to ensure that it’s safe for you, and also your livestock, to drink. The water can be sourced from a borehole, a spring, a river, lake or well. These are naturally occurring and will be unregulated and untested, in terms of purity and safety. If you are going to use a private water supply for anything beyond irrigation or watering, then you will need to undertake specialist drinking water testing and analysis. It may be the case that the water is going to be used by people beyond your immediate family and colleagues – for example, on a campsite or other on-site accommodation. So you will need to be absolutely certain that there are no harmful levels of contaminants in the water, harbouring harmful microbes, or other hazards to human and animal safety.   

Drinking water analysis will check the potability – that is its suitability for drinking. It’s most likely that you’ll need to engage a specialist in water testing and then samples will go away for laboratory testing. Potable water analysis will check for metals, chemicals and microbiological analysis, to find impurities and potentially harmful presences. It’s mostly properties, premises and estates in remote areas that rely on their own private water supply, but if you are living or working at the location, it’s essential that regular water monitoring is taking place.

Tried and tested

Microbiological water analysis will check for a range of microbial bacteria and viruses, such as E. coli, enterococci, salmonella, sulphate reducing bacteria (SRB), legionella and pseudomonas. It will also provide a total viable count (TVC) – this is a test that estimates the total numbers of microorganisms (such as mould and bacteria) that are present in the sample – and simple tests for odour and taste. In rural or agricultural areas, there are many other contaminants, from natural decomposition or faecal matter, especially where animals and cattle can pollute local water courses. A test will also reveal the levels of contaminants from other agricultural sources, such as nitrates, sulphates and sulphides, which can come from sewage or fertiliser. 

Any contaminants and their levels will be identified by testing and this will also give you an indication of what measures of purification and treatment you will need to implement, to make the water potable and safe. It’s not really a one-off test, as regular testing can monitor levels of contaminants that may not initially be present – for example, in the wake of flooding, where water may have become displaced. This will help allow the safe water levels to be monitored and maintained throughout the year.    

If you are using a private water source as your supply of water and would like further information on testing, then get in touch with one of our team. We can provide advice on what your next steps should be, to ensure there are no harmful contaminants present. 

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