Private Water Supplies

Water Scarcity : Advice for Private Water Supply Owners/Users  

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. Contamination can be bacteriological in nature, from faecal matter such as animal droppings, or may arise from chemical sources, such as fertilizer run-off from fields or deterioration of distribution pipe work.  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.

Types of private water supplies

There are two types of supplies that are categorised based on the legislation that governs them. Both must meet wholesomeness standards.

  • 2017 - Regulated Supplies - Supplies serving 50 or more persons in total, or supplies to commercial or public activities irrespective of size, (these are regulated by the Water Intended for Human Consumption (Private Supplies) (Scotland) 2017), or
  • 2006 - Type B Supplies - Supplies serving only domestic premises with less than 50 persons in total supplied (These are regulated by the Private Water Supplies (Scotland) Regulations 2006)

2017 Regulated supplies fall within the provisions of the E.C. Drinking Water Directive (98/83/EC) which require each supply to be sampled and analysed for a wide range of parameters, at least once a year. These supplies serve premises of a commercial or public nature and includes self-catering premises, hotels, schools, food businesses, factories, sports centres, B&B's, campsites, village halls and domestic let property (including private landlords) Commercial premises are also required to display an information notice (») (Opens in a new window or downloads a file).

A “water safety maintenance plan (274.1kB) (Opens in a new window or downloads a file)” should also be in place to ensure that the routine maintenance has to be undertaken to maintain optimum water quality and to minimise the risk of contaminated water being consumed.

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. For example, a private water supply may not have chlorine added to it to kill any potentially harmful micro-organisms, although other treatment may have been applied to achieve a similar effect.

If you have a commercial premises served by a private water supply in Scotland you are required by law to display a Drinking Water Poster (») (Opens in a new window or downloads a file) to notify all users. This includes all holiday letting premises and self-catering units/caravans, food premises, workplaces and domestic residential lets that get their water from a private supply. Users and visitors can then consider whether they need to take additional precautions to protect their health or the health of their family.

Although the quality of private water supplies is often acceptable for drinking and other purposes this may not always be the case. Under certain circumstances the quality may be lower than you would expect from a public supply. There are occasions when there is an increased risk of harmful bacteria affecting any supply. This is most likely to happen after heavy rainfall or snowmelt, or when the water is highly coloured.

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

  • Bottle-fed infants
  • The very young
  • The elderly
  • Anyone whose immune system might be compromised.

For these people it is recommend that water from a private supply is always boiled before it is used for the following purposes:

  • Drinking, including preparing cold drinks and ice,
  • Brushing teeth,
  • Preparing food, particularly that which 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 use bought bottled water for these purposes.

If you decide to use bottled water, remember that any water bottled water labelled “natural mineral water” may contain too much sodium for babies. Check the label to make sure the figure for sodium (Na) isn’t higher than 200milligrams (mg) per litre.

If you require more information with regard to the drinking water quality or treatment on a particular supply then the owner or owner’s representative should be able to assist.

Water that fails to meet certain chemical standards should not be boiled before use and an alternative supply should be sought in this instance. Such supplies are those affected by lead or arsenic, in these cases a notice should be displayed informing users of the issue. But if you have any doubts contact the owner of the premises for the most recent sample results.

If you still have concerns then please contact us. Further information is also available on the Drinking Water Quality Regulator (Opens in a new window or downloads a file) website.

The Water Intended for Human Consumption (Private Supplies)(Scotland) Regulations 2017 (Opens in a new window or downloads a file) came into force on 27 October 2017.

The Scottish Government’s Drinking Water Quality Regulator (DWQR) has created a PWS Information Hub which is for owners and users of private water supplies.  It can be accessed at:  Private Water Supplies Information Hub (Opens in a new window or downloads a file)

The hub contains useful information on the following:

  • How to apply for a Private Water Supply Grant
  • Information on what you need to do if you’re buying or selling a property with a PWS
  • Connecting to the mains supply
  • Developing a new PWS
  • How to maintain your PWS
  • How to make sure your PWS is safe to drink
  • Your rights and responsibilities if you use a PWS
  • PWS – what to do in an emergency
  • Risk assessing your PWS
  • How to get your PWS tested
  • How to treat your PWS

Private Water Supply Registration

All private water supplies must be registered with the Comhairle.  

The register of private supplies may be shared with other public bodies such as Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) to ensure that the water quality of these supplies is not compromised by agricultural activities, new developments or pollution incidents etc.

We may also from time to time contact you with relevant information should legislation change etc. It is also essential that we are able to contact everyone who may be using a supply in the event a problem occurs.  If you wish to register your property as one served by a private supply, or update existing information, please contact