Tests in 2014 detected contamination by bacteria and metals in 4,400 samples from springs, wells, lochs and rivers used for drinking water. One bug known to cause illness, E coli, was detected in more than 500 supplies.
The poor quality of water from private supplies has been highlighted as a concern by Sue Petch, the Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland. Critics say that the system meant to combat the problem is “broken”, and that urgent action is required.
There are over 20,000 private water supplies in Scotland, relied on daily by over 188,000 people mostly in rural areas. In addition large numbers of people use the supplies occasionally, when they are on holiday or in the countryside.
Tests in 2014 found that 2,700 samples from the larger ‘type A’ supplies – six per cent of the samples taken - failed to meet water quality standards. There were 549 samples with coliform bacteria, 303 with E coli, and others containing iron, aluminium and lead.
Most of the breaches were in the six local authorities with the highest number of private water supplies: Argyll and Bute, Highland, Perth and Kinross, Dumfries and Galloway, Scottish Borders and Aberdeenshire (see table below).
Of the smaller ‘type B’ supplies tested, 1,696 samples (12 per cent) were contaminated, including 486 with coliform bacteria and 244 with E coli. But the vast majority of the smaller supplies weren’t tested.