Drinking water quality remains high across Northern Ireland

The safety and quality of drinking water in Northern Ireland remains high, a new report today confirmed.

By Edwin Poots MLA

Belfast South

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The Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI), which is responsible for regulating drinking water quality, has today published its Annual Report for 2020.

Northern Ireland Water Limited (NI Water) must undertake a stringent monitoring programme to verify that the tap water it supplies to consumers meets all the stringent quality standards set by the drinking water regulations. In 2020, over 91,000 tests were completed. As outlined in the DWI Report, the overall compliance for the mains water supply in 2020 was 99.94%. The results are based on samples taken from water treatment works, service reservoirs and consumers’ taps.

Welcoming publication of the report, Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA, said: “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.”

The report also highlighted a number of challenges for NI Water in its response to the pandemic, to ensure that the same stringent quality standards were met whilst protecting critical staff and infrastructure to ensure the continued supply of safe drinking water. Good operational practice and risk management is important at every stage through catchment, treatment and distribution to ensure that NI Water continues to provide safe, clean, drinking water to the consumer. NI Water worked closely with DWI to ensure that regulatory monitoring continued throughout 2020 and to maintain consumer confidence.

The Minister continued: “The Drinking Water Inspectorate’s purpose is to safeguard the delivery of safe, clean drinking water for consumers, through the independent and effective regulation of drinking water quality. It provides independent assurance to consumers that NI Water continues to meet its regulatory responsibilities."

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. 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 Report published today 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.”

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