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Private water supplies

The Private Water Supplies Regulations 2016, as amended, set standards for water quality and places a duty on the council to ensure the water quality standards are met to safeguard public health.

Private water supplies are regulated by the following legislation:

which require all water intended for human consumption, to meet water quality standards and to be wholesome and not constitute a danger to human health.

What are private water supplies?

A private water supply (PWS) is a source of ground water, not from a 'mains' water company like Northumbrian Water and may come from a variety of sources such as a well, borehole, spring, stream, river, lake, reservoir or a pond. There are over 700 properties in County Durham, served by private water supplies.

 In rural areas, some properties cannot easily connect to mains water and using a private water supply can be a cost-effective way to get water. However, it is essential a private water supply, used for human consumption, is well maintained and safe to reduce any risk to human health.

What harm could water contamination cause?

Some micro-organisms, such as coliforms, indicate that contamination may be present. Others, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Campylobacter and E.coli O157 can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea or more severe health effects in some cases.

The effects of some chemicals, sometimes found in water, depends on the type and amount of chemical present. Common concerns relate to lead, which is dissolved from lead pipework, and can impair childhood development and nitrates which can have significant health effects on infants, the unborn foetus as well as others.

Tell us about your supply

 We have a duty to keep up to date records of all private water supplies in County Durham.  If you've recently received a letter from us asking about your supply, please complete the form and return to us by email or post.

You can use these forms at any time to tell us about a new water supply or give us information about an existing supply such as change of use or new contact details.

All private water supplies must be registered with the council and we maintain a public register. 

What we do

The council has a legal responsibility to sample and / or monitor and risk assess private water supplies in County Durham, depending on the type of private water supply.  If we consider that a private water supply in our area is a potential danger to human health, we must take steps to ensure that people likely to consume water from it—

  • are informed that the supply constitutes a potential danger to human health
  • where possible, are informed of the nature of the potential danger, and
  • are given advice to allow them to minimise any potential danger.

Please note we recover the cost of risk assessment and sampling from properties sampled and assessed but do not make a profit from this work. 

We are required to:

  • carry out a risk assessment for each supply and to monitor the quality of the water to be used for human consumption.
  • carry out sampling at all supplies, except those which serve only one domestic property which is owner occupied.

Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is a detailed examination of the water source, collecting chambers, holding tanks, pipe work and other infrastructure to identify where contamination of the supply may occur and how this can be removed to reduce the risk of harm to people.

A typical risk assessment may take 1-2 hours on site plus administration and writing up of the report and will be carried out by appointment with the relevant person. This is someone who takes on the responsibility for the supply, e.g. a landowner/agent, a nominated person or someone identified by a lease, deeds or rental agreement. This gives them the opportunity to arrange access to the various parts of the system, clear any vegetation and arrange for someone with detailed knowledge of the system to be present. This may reduce the time taken by the officer to complete the assessment and cut the overall cost.

We consider factors such as:

  • the source of the water
  • land use adjoining the supply
  • possible contamination risks
  • number of consumers on the supply
  • any treatment provided to the water

Sampling and testing of private water supplies

Sampling is usually taken from a consumer tap using sterile sampling equipment. It will be sent for chemical and bacteriological analysis at an approved UKAS laboratory. The frequency and extent of analysis will depend on the size of the supply and the use of the water. Sample are tested for microbiological and chemical parameters, set down in the Schedules to the regulations

Frequency of sampling and testing

This depends on the number and type or category of property served by the private water supply. According to the regulations, there are 3 main categories of Private Water Supplies:


Description of Private Water Supplies


Parameters Sampled

Single Domestic Supplies

Single domestic dwellings only (where there is no commercial or rental use).


Monitored by the council but not routinely risk assessed or sampled unless requested to by the owner or occupier.


Dependent on Client requirements.

Rented or commercial supplies

(Regulation 9)

These include any rented property or commercial activity.


Sampled annually

Group A+B Parameters.

Multiple Domestic Supplies(Regulation 10)

Any owner-occupied properties on a multiple supply where there are 2 or more properties on a supply.

Sampled every 5 years

Parameters set out in legislation plus any identified by the Risk Assessment as potential risk.

Large Domestic and Commercial Supplies

Supplies that use an average daily volume of water of 10m³ or more - this equates to approximately 50 people

Sampled twice a year or more depending on the volume of water used

Group A+B Parameters.

Our Fees and Charges 2023/2024, under the Private Water Supplies (England) Regulations 2016

The Council will recharge the reasonable costs of carrying out duties under these regulations as follows up to a maximum level set by the regulations:


Our fee (£)


Risk assessment


Per hour including time on site and administration time

Sampling (each visit) + laboratory analysis cost


+ laboratory analysis cost



Per investigation

Granting an authorisation (each authorisation)



Analysing a sample: Bacterial only

Up to £40+ sampling cost £100

Analysing a sample: Regulation 10 supply

Up to £30

+ sampling cost £100

Analysing a sample: Group A

Up to £100

+ sampling cost £100

Analysing a sample: Group A and B

Up to £340

+ sampling cost £100

Please note that these charges are not subject to VAT

These are charges for a standard suite and there may be additional charges for any parameters identified from a risk assessment that may need to be included.

Should you get your supply checked?

If you think your supply is not up to the minimum required standard, you can have it tested yourself at a private laboratory or request that we test it for you. It should be noted that both options would incur a charge that will vary depending on the number of tests carried out. However, if you have a complaint about a private water supply, this will not normally incur a charge from us. Testing is imperative to ensure that the water is wholesome, safe and of good quality.

What should you do to keep your water supply safe?

The first thing is to get some details on your private water supply such as:

  • Who is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance?
  • Where is the source?
  • How does it get to your property?
  • Is there any treatment?

If it is treated is the equipment in good order and serviced regularly?

What happens if the supply does not meet the standards?

If a sample has a failed test result, an investigation into the cause will be made to identify what action is needed to improve the supply. Further samples may be taken at the source, from holding tanks and at other points on the system to assist the investigation. Investigation charges are in addition to those for risk assessments or sampling.

Advice on improvements which can be made, may include:

  • fencing off a spring chamber to stop animals entering and contaminating the area
  • creating an exclusion zone for the spreading of fertilizers around the spring or well
  • the improvement of drainage around the supply
  • the replacement of pipework.

Sometimes it may prove necessary to install a filter to remove or lower the level of a particular substance. Examples include:

  • Ultraviolet filters to remove bacteria (E. Coli).
  • Reverse Osmosis filters to remove aluminium or nitrate.
  • Iron and manganese filters.
  • Cation Exchange filters to remove lead.

Contamination from flooding

If you rely on a private water supply and suffer a flooding event, you should assume the supply has been contaminated and is not fit to use without boiling. Alternatively, you could use a bottled water supply, but please refer to the advice of the NHS and Public Health England on giving bottled water to infants. Even if you have a treatment system, it may be that the contamination is heavy (this may not be visible) and the treatment method may have been unable to cope with this. Therefore, still treat the water as contaminated and boil accordingly. See Food Standards Agency: food safety advice after a flood for further information.

You can find out if you're at risk of flooding go to check flood risk.

You can get the Environment Agency's flooding history of a property by sending them the property's address or a map of the area and emailing your request to

Mains water

If you are having issues with mains water you should initially visit the Northumbrian Water website Northumbrian Water or call for assistance on 03457 171 100.  We can provide advice regarding mains water quality however would normally only do so once you have spoken to Northumbrian Water.

Contact us for further information.

Contact us
Consumer Protection
03000 260 000
Our address is:
  • Durham County Council
  • Consumer Protection
  • PO Box 617
  • Durham
  • County Durham
  • United Kingdom
  • DH1 9HZ