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Consumer and Environmental Services

Private Water Supplies


It is generally taken for granted that the population of the Outer Hebrides has ready access to clean and reliable sources of water.  However there are a minority of supplies that do not come from a statutory water supplier but instead from a private source.  These supplies come from springs, wells, burns or lochs and unlike public supplies are not always treated to remove contamination.  All private water supplies can pose a risk to health unless they are properly protected and treated.

You may not be able to tell whether your water is safe, as contamination may not change the colour, smell or taste of the water.  Water borne bacteria such as Campylobacter, E.coli O157, Cryptosporidium and Giardia can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, whilst chemical contaminants are associated with an increased risk of long term health effects.

The Private Water Supplies (Scotland) Regulations 2006 came into force on the 3rd July 2006 and define private water supplies as either;

Type A

  • Supplies serving 50 or more persons, or
  • Supplies to commercial or public activities

This includes lodges, guest houses, B&Bs, holiday let accommodation or premises used for the processing of food, such as deer larders.
These supplies will have had a risk assessment carried out and will be sampled and analysed at least once a year.

Type B

  • Supplies serving only domestic premises

These supplies will be risk assessed and sampled at the request of the owner and do not form part of a statutory sampling programme.  If you require your supply to be sampled, please Contact Us.

Sampling is done to determine the presence of bacteria and/or chemical contaminants which indicate the wholesomeness of the water and whether it is safe to drink.

Sampling and assessment of private water supplies incurs a Charge.

Details on the regulations and general advice regarding private water supplies can be found on the Drinking Water Quality Regulator website.  The DWQR have issued a leaflet containing help and advice for those on a private water supply. This can be accessed on the DWQR website at Health Awareness and Advice Leaflet.

Maintenance Advice for Private Water Supplies

Following the risk assessment of a supply and the installation of any required treatment systems and protective measures, routine maintenance has to be undertaken regularly.  This will help maintain optimum water quality and to minimise the risk of consuming contaminated water.  For information on how to achieve a safe water supply, please read our suggested Maintenance Plan (PDF, 30K)



Improvement Grants are available at the moment to nearly all properties served by a private water supply.  Financial assistance of up to £800 per property is available. The grant scheme is non-means tested and you may be eligible for financial assistance if:

  • Your home or business is in the Western Isles and served by a private water supply;
  • The private water supply is the main or sole source of water for human consumption purposes to these premises; and
  • Your private water supply is in need of improvement to bring it up to modern standards.

The cost of improving a private supply can vary hugely and there will be instances where the supply requires work that exceeds the £800 grant. In such cases, it will be your responsibility to meet the additional costs.

You should not start any of the improvement works before your application is approved and we have agreed that the expenditure is necessary.  Grants cannot be issued retrospectively for works that have already started or been completed. A risk assessment of your supply will be carried out by a member of staff from the Environmental Health Section to establish the details of improvements required to conform to the Private Water Supplies (Regulations) 2006.
 There are some exceptions to Grant approval, the most common being:

  • New builds.
  • Houses under Closing Orders, Demolition Orders or a Dangerous Building Notice.
  • Empty or unoccupied premises.

Please Contact Us for information on eligibility and how to apply for a grant.


Advice to Users and Visitors

If premises are served by a private water supply, then the water is not provided by a statutory water undertaker, such as Scottish Water.  This may mean that the amount of treatment the water has had may be different to the water that many people on a public supply are used to.  If you have a commercial premises served by a private supply in Scotland, you are required by law to display a Drinking Water Notice to notify all users - PWS Type A poster (PDF, 470K).  This includes all holiday letting premises and self-catering units/caravans.  You can then consider whether you need to take additional precautions to protect your health or the health of your family.

Some people are more vulnerable to harmful bacteria than others.  These include:

  • Bottle-fed infants
  • The very young
  • The elderly
  • Anyone whose immune system is compromised

For these people, we recommend that you always boil water used for the following purposes:

  • Drinking, including preparing cold drinks and ice
  • Brushing teeth
  • Preparing food, particularly anything that will be eaten uncooked, such as salads and fruit.

We would also recommend that you boil water used for the above purposes for use by anyone after periods of heavy rainfall or snow melt, or if the water is particularly coloured (as this can affect water treatment efficiency).  Water needs only to be brought to the boil.  It can then be stored in a covered container in the fridge for up to 48 hours.  Alternatively, you can purchase bottled water for these purposes.

For further enquiries, guidance or advice regarding Private Water Supplies in the Outer Hebrides please Contact Us

Further information is also available on the Scottish Government Website.