Scottish Government
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Scotland's drinking water

The quality of drinking water in Scotland is the best it has ever been, according to a report published yesterday.

The annual report by the Drinking Water Quality Regulator (DWQR) on the quality of public supplies during 2010 found that well over 99 per cent of tests on samples complied with strict regulatory standards.

In 2010 Scottish Water carried out nearly 324,000 tests on water at treatment works, storage reservoirs and consumers' taps. Of the 155,302 tests on samples taken directly from taps in homes, 99.83 per cent met the standard. This compares with 99.78 per cent in 2009 and 99.14 per cent in 2003, the year after Scottish Water was formed.

Compliance tests showed an improvement, significantly for pH (hydrogen ion), colour, iron and Trihalomethanes (THMs). In 2009, THMs levels attracted criticism from the Regulator and improvement this year is welcomed.

Consumer satisfaction with the water supply across Scotland has also increased. In 2010 Scottish Water received 20,495 contacts from consumers concerned about the quality of their supplies, compared with 24,168 in the previous year. While this is an improvement, DWQR calls for these numbers to fall even further.

A Drinking Water Quality Regulator (DWQR) spokesman said:

"We are delighted with these results that show Scottish tap water is top quality. Households can be confident that the drinking water from their tap has been tested thousands of times each year, and that it meets some of the tightest quality standards in the world.

"It's very important that the water tastes and looks good too. It's comforting to see the number of complaints to Scottish Water reduce. DWQR fully believes that this figure will fall further through the work Scottish Water is doing to renovate old iron water mains and improve control of chlorine at some treatment works."

Not everyone in Scotland receives their drinking water from Scottish Water. Approximately 150,000 people, three per cent of the population, receive water from a private water supply. The quality of some of these supplies remains of concern, and 18.35 per cent of samples taken from these supplies last year by local authorities contained the E.coli bacterium.

The spokesman continued:

"Local Authorities across Scotland are working hard to communicate to the owners and users the health risk these private supplies pose, and offer support to make improvements. Where improvements are being made it is vital that the newly installed treatment is properly maintained for benefits to be seen."

Drinking water quality regulation began in 1991 and drinking water quality was monitored by the Scottish Executive and its predecessor before the post of DWQR was created in 2002, at the same time as Scottish Water.

The DWQR is independent of Scottish Ministers and ensures that the drinking water quality duties imposed on Scottish Water are complied with. DWQR reviews water quality data from samples taken by Scottish Water and undertakes targeted audits examining all aspects of its operations. The Regulator also supervises local authority enforcement of the Private Water Supply Regulations. An annual report is presented to Scottish Ministers detailing the assessment of drinking water quality during the previous year.

Where drinking water does not meet the required standard, the Regulator has powers to investigate and ensure problems are resolved. This can involve taking enforcement action or prosecution.

The DWQR also has a role in helping to define Scottish Water's Investment Programme and is committed to ensuring that drinking water supplies in Scotland are of the highest possible standard.

Approximately two thirds of the contacts received by Scottish Water concerning water quality were about discoloured supplies - this is usually caused by corrosion of iron water mains or failure of the treatment process to remove manganese. Approximately 13 per cent of calls concerned tastes and odours, with complaints about the taste of chlorine being the most common category.

It is estimated that around 150,000 people rely on a private water supply for their drinking water, with many thousands more using them occasionally, typically on holiday. Many of these supplies have limited or no treatment. The main risk comes from microorganisms, including E.coli. Strengthened regulations governing the quality of private water supplies were introduced in 2006.

The DWQR website has recently been updated to improve the information available to consumers. Innovative mapping software has been used to enable consumers to find their local water supply and check the latest quality data from it. This is the first time detailed water quality information has been made available in this way in the UK.

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