Dealing with drinking water problems

Drinking water in Northern Ireland is of very high quality. However, on rare occasions, things may go wrong. Find out how the quality of water is maintained and what to do if you are worried.

Problems with your water supply

If there is a problem with your water supply, you should contact Northern Ireland Water. It is the sole provider of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland.

The Consumer Council might also be able to help. It represents consumers on water and sewerage matters.

Private water supplies

If your drinking water is not supplied by Northen Ireland Water but comes from a private water supply, such as a borehole, well or spring, you should contact the Drinking Water Inspectorate for Northern Ireland (DWI (NI)) within the Northern Ireland Environment Agency or the Environmental Health department of your local council.

DWI (NI) is responsible for monitoring private water supplies which serve two or more properties, or a commercial premises.

Your local council will normally lift a sample, when asked, from a private water supply which serves a single private home.

Is your private water supply safe?

Further guidance and advice on your private water supply is available in the leaflet 'Is your private water supply safe?'.

​​Causes of changes in your drinking water

Any one of the following could cause a change in the smell or taste of your drinking water:

  • the use of chlorine as a disinfectant
  • seasonal changes
  • a change in your water supply
  • moving from one area to another
  • your plumbing

Chlorine, smell or taste

Chlorine is a very effective disinfectant which has been used to treat drinking water for over 100 years. It is harmless when used in very small amounts, and is commonly used in various brands of sterilisers for baby feeding bottles and equipment.

To make sure the distribution system remains free from microbial contamination, small amounts of chlorine should stay in the water supplied to your tap. This may result in an occasional smell of chlorine when you turn your tap on or a slight taste of chlorine in the water. Chlorine taste and odours should dissipate if the water is left to stand in the fridge for a few hours. Boiling the water will also remove chlorine.

Discoloured water

Burst mains or increases in demand can cause mains deposits to enter the water supply. This may change the colour of your drinking water. While they are normally harmless it should be reported to Northern Ireland Water.

Lead

Many houses built before 1970 still have service pipes and internal plumbing made from lead. If you have lead pipes in your house it is possible that lead may be present in your drinking water.

The best solution is to replace your part of the lead service pipe with copper or plastic pipes. You can ask NI Water to replace their part between the water main and the boundary of your property. If you are concerned you should contact Northern Ireland Water.

Pesticides and nitrates

Rivers and ground waters may contain traces of pesticide as a result of agricultural use (pest control on crops) and non-agricultural use (herbicide for weed control on highways and railways). Northern Ireland Water treats water for drinking to make sure it meets water quality standards.

Looking after water in your home

You can read more about protecting your domestic water supply in the leaflet - 'Looking after water in your home'.

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