NFGWS - National Federation of Group Water Schemes
Charter of Rights and Responsibilities of Consumers on Group Water Supplies.
Potable water is a limited resource, which requires considerable public and private resources to exploit and make available. Thus, whilst we have right of access as citizens to its frugal use, we equally have responsibilities as to its protection.
1. Services in a Modern Society
In order to reside in a modern society, a number of services are considered essential. Amongst these are water supply, waste-water management, refuse collection, electricity and others. This charter encompasses civil and consumer rights in relation to the supply of water and relies on the principles of shared ownership of and responsibility for conservation of a scarce resource.
These are not absolute rights but should be seen more in terms of services best provided on a communal basis where population and housing density make this economically viable and environmentally desirable. In effect citizens/consumers should be entitled to avail of/buy into these services in most situations with some exceptions. (Appendix 1.)
2. Communal Water Rights and Responsibilities
Key factors include:-
2.1) Quality, Safety and Wholesomeness 2.2) Cost 2.3) Right of Supply 2.4) Supply Quantity and Pressure 2.5) Source Protection 2.6) Right to Information 2.7) Complaints Procedure
2.1) Quality, Safety and Wholesomeness :
2.1.1 Quality - Quality standards were set for potable water in the Drinking Water Directive (80/778/EEC). This was enforced in Ireland in the 1988 Drinking Water Regulations (S.I. No. 81 of 1988 - Quality of Water Intended for Human Consumption) and their amendment (S.I. No. 177 of 2000). This Directive has now been superseded by Directive 98/83/EC of 3 November 1998. This new Directive has been transposed into Irish legislation by the EC (Drinking Water) Regulations 2000 (S.I. No. 439 of 2000). These Regulations came into operation on 1 January 2004. Quality standards can be divided into those affecting human health and those affecting only the aesthetic characteristics of the water.
2.1.2 Human Health - Suppliers must take all reasonable steps to ensure that relevant standards are adhered to at all times. Such steps might include protection of source, treatment, disinfection, distribution maintenance, regular monitoring and testing.
The most commonly occurring exceedences of relevance to public health relate to coliform organisms and nitrates.
Coliforms - The total absence of coliforms in drinking water must be the objective at all times. Where contamination of the drinking water is indicated by the presence of coliforms, the supplier must take the following action as appropriate : Where an alternative satisfactory supply is available, this should be used, if necessary by tankering in supplies of potable water for drinking and cooking purposes. Where the contaminated supply is the only option available, all consumers must be notified and informed of the need to boil water prior to human consumption. Action must be taken to remedy the problem and to monitor the supply until the problem is solved.
Nitrates - Where nitrates are shown to exceed 50 mg/l : Consumers should be notified as to the possible health risks to children and of the need to provide them with an alternative source (e.g. approved bottled water). Action should be taken to reduce levels of nitrates below 25mg/l by, for example, source protection, blending with another supply or seeking an alternative supply.
Other Contaminants - Apart from coliforms and nitrates, it is important that suppliers make themselves aware of the other microbiological and chemical contaminants listed in the Drinking Water Regulations which may be injurious to health and that they take appropriate preventative or remedial action in respect of same.
2.1.3 Aesthetic Wholesomeness - Drinking water should normally be inoffensive in relation to visual characteristics, taste and odour. Water not meeting these criteria on a regular basis should not be considered satisfactory and remedial action should be planned and implemented.
2.2 Cost :
2.2.1 Connection cost - In the case of a public supply, the cost of connection is determined by the local authority. In the case of a part-private or private group scheme supply, the cost is decided by the relevant group scheme. In most situations this is a standard charge amended from time to time. An exceptional additional charge may be requested in special circumstances. It must be noted that a consumer applying for connection to a group scheme is also applying for membership of that private organisation. Membership of any private organisation confers its own rights and responsibilities.
2.2.2 Operating cost - The supply of drinking water involves considerable cost, in production and supply distribution. For this there are generally two sources of funding: public subsidy and non-domestic charges. Other local arrangements can also apply. Operational charges may be either a set fee or may be based on metered usage or a combination of the two. For public supply and delivery, the charge is set by the local authority. On group schemes, the private organisation operating the scheme sets its own charges.
2.3 Right of Supply :
The rights of existing members of a group scheme not to be disconnected must be guaranteed, save only where a serious and continued breach of the scheme's own rules is occurring. Every residence within the area of supply of a communal piped distribution system is normally entitled to a supply. There may be exceptional circumstances where the supply has to be refused. The basis for such refusal must be clearly stated.
2.4 Supply Quantity and Pressure :
2.4.1 Quantity - The quantity supplied must be an amount sufficient for reasonable family living e.g. 225m3 (50,000 gls) per year as has previously been suggested. The supply should be available continuously in normal circumstances. (Appendix 2a: Notification of interruption of supply *Appendix 2b: Notification of faults).
22.4.2 Pressure - In normal circumstances sufficient pressure should be available to fill attic storage in a two-storey house in a reasonable time while operating normal domestic appliances. A minimum pressure of 15 metres (22 p.s.i.) is recommended at the stopcock (i.e. connection to the mains) (Appendix 3).
2.5 Source Protection :
It is the responsibility of suppliers of drinking water to protect drinking water sources and to take necessary preventative and/or remedial action as appropriate. The public generally and, in particular, consumers of a local supply, should be aware of the risks of contamination and should act to protect drinking water sources. Spring and groundwater sources of communal water may be included in the Aquifer Protection Plan of each county. This plan, its aims, objectives and recommendations should be taken into account in the Strategic Rural Water Plan in each local authority area. Bye-laws can be an effective tool in protecting drinking water sources.
2.6 Right to Information :
Consumers of water have a special interest in the service and product provided. Drinking water differs radically from other utilities, such as electricity, telephone etc., as drinking water is a food product. Consumers are entitled to specific reassurances and availability of all pertinent information on, for example:
2.61) Treatment processes and additives.
2.62) Maintenance and monitoring regimes.
2.63) Proposed disruptions to supply due to maintenance, etc.
2.64) Quality assurance scheme.
2.7 Complaints Procedure :
The consumers and suppliers of water share certain responsibilities in relation to the conservation and protection of the supply, be it supplied from a local authority or group scheme.
Step 1: The first line of communication is certainly between the consumer and the supplier. Consumers who feel they have a grievance should have the following rights:
a) To put their complaint in writing to the management committee of the scheme. b) To a prompt acknowledgement of their complaint. c) To expect a response in a reasonable time, e.g. 15 working days. d) To be treated with courtesy and respect at all times.
Step 2: If the issue is not resolved to the consumer• satisfaction, the following procedure can be followed:
e) Consumers may put their complaint in writing to the County Rural Water Monitoring Committee. f) If still unresolved, the matter should be raised and dealt with at the next meeting of this committee. g) The committee can ask the complainant to attend if is felt appropriate. h) The suppliers shall have the right to state their case to the committee. i) The committee might invite both the complainant and the supplier to attend a hearing, if considered appropriate. j) Both parties should undertake to accept the decision and recommendation of the committee.
Disclaimer : The Rural Water Monitoring Committee and the National Federation of Group Water Schemes and all persons otherwise associated with the content of this document accept no liability for compliance or otherwise therewith and do not warrant the efficacy of the recommendations contained in paragraph 2.1.2. It remains the direct responsibility of the supplier to ensure that the supply is at all times safe for human consumption.
Appendix 1 Right to Supply (Exceptions)
Excessive cost: In some cases individual houses or small groups of houses removed from a communal source may be obliged to develop their own individual supply or come together to form a new small communal supply, the second being the preferred option. The County Strategic Rural Water Plans will, in any event, point to the optimum solution in such cases.
Location: Local authorities generally seek confirmation of the availability of a potable water supply prior to the granting of planning permission for dwellings. In a communal situation, the citizen must establish whether the local authority or the nearest group scheme is in a position to provide an adequate supply. If they are not, the onus is on the citizen to provide his/her own supply.
Shortage: Where a private group scheme experiences a shortage of supply and where solving the problems would involve excessive cost, they may choose to refuse to allow any further connections. Such refusal should be supported by adequate documentation, where possible in a report by the scheme or Consulting Engineer.
New Houses: New houses built adjacent to existing group schemes are sometimes built on very elevated sites or some distance from the group scheme main. The main may have sufficient quantities of water available, but may have insufficient pressure to serve the dwelling. Individual boosters provided by the applicant, rather than increasing pressure on the scheme, would be appropriate in most such cases. These individual boosters should be the full responsibility of the applicant concerned. If the applicant is not agreeable to above, the application may be denied.
Appendix 2 Notification of interruption of supply or of fault
2a Interruption of Supply: Except in an emergency, the consumer has the right to be notified in advance, at least 24hrs, of any abnormality that may occur in regard to any of the following: a) Interruption of supply due to repairs and maintenance or upgrade. b) Interruption of supply due to new connections. c) Reduction in pressure. d) intermittent supply.
2b Faults: The consumer has a responsibility for and is required to notify the supplier, as soon as practicable, of any leaks, water loss, etc., to ensure minimum wastage.
Appendix 3 Supply Pressure
Pressure Variation: Pressure on some communal lines may vary, especially if pumped directly. Some appliances, e.g. electric showers, may need to be of a particular specification suited to these situations. Members should be made aware of this.
Booster pumps: These may be used to boost pressure and supply to higher locations on a communal piped supply. High pressure: Where appropriate, the group scheme should be prepared to install pressure reducing valves.
** Ideal mid range pressure is 3 bar 44 psi - (22 psi - too low / 44 psi - ideal / 66 psi - high)