Tuesday, 25 May 2010


Local councils have started sending out threatening notices to the 300,000 people in England who get their water from a spring or a well. The ‘Private Water Supplies Regulations 2009’ require them to enforce compliance with new quality requirements. They can charge households up to £500 for carrying out a ‘risk assessment’ and further sums for sampling, investigating, and 'granting an authorisation.'

I guess everyone who gets water from a private source knows that it has not been pumped full of bacteria-killing chemicals and, even when it tastes fantastic, may present a risk. If a collection tank is exposed perhaps a fly may have the chance to do something unmentionable. Before I installed a better filtration system I occasionally had to remove fresh water shrimps that were blocking the shower rose. But everyone on spring water accepts their individual responsibility and will resent Labour’s nanny-state interference.

What gets my goat is the claim that these regulations stem from EU requirements. The 1998 Drinking Water Directive states clearly: “Member States may exempt water from an individual supply serving fewer than 50 persons.” The law is intended to ensure good quality provision of mains water supply, not to interfere in the provision of spring water to hamlets across Europe that have used natural sources for centuries.

It is being applied in a sensible fashion in Scotland. The law as interpreted in that country gives local councils the right to carry out a risk assessment if there is reason for concern, but it's a very much more light touch approach than south of the border.

The English way of doing things is a text book example of ‘gold-plating’ an EU law. The previous government refused to take up the exemption on offer, preferring instead to apply the legislation to every hillside dwelling in the country. As it seeks to make a bonfire of unnecessary regulations, here is where the new government can start.

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