Survey: Reducing private groundwater contamination through better guidance

An estimated 30% of private wells nationally are contaminated with E. coli deriving from human and animal waste.

Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC), a particularly harmful strain of E. coli, may induce severe gastrointestinal illness and kidney failure and poses a particularly serious threat to infant and elderly populations in rural Ireland.

Central to reducing the risk of infection is a greater knowledge of groundwater science and, ultimately, engagement with rural well owners.

Groundwater (water situated underground in rock pores and crevices of various sizes) is the most extracted natural resource in the world but also one of the least understood.

Despite providing drinking water to an estimated 2.2 billion people, groundwater is often mischaracterised as a pure, reliable water supply. In actuality, occurrences of groundwater depletion and contamination are common in many regions, with the latter posing an escalating global health concern.

Rural populations dependent on individual groundwater supplies (private wells) are especially vulnerable to illness due to the large number of nearby contaminant sources.

The Republic of Ireland is unfortunately emblematic of this phenomenon due to the country’s dense rural settlement pattern. Contamination of household wells via onsite septic tanks and adjacent cattle fields have contributed to an increase in national cases of VTEC – presently nine times the EU average.

As private wells in the Republic of Ireland are unregulated, the onus to maintain them lies with well owners. However, Irish well owners should not be talked down to; nor should they be lectured.

Irish well owners should instead be in a position to avail of better guidance about groundwater risks and well maintenance.

Current awareness levels

To this end, a survey was recently developed to identify current awareness levels among Irish private well owners concerning groundwater contamination, associated illnesses and potential climate change impacts.

The survey is hosted by SurveyMonkey and contains a maximum of 38 questions, with an estimated completion time of 10-12 minutes.

The information gathered will be used to develop improved, customised information about groundwater well maintenance, with the overall objective to reduce the risk of illness associated with private wells.

The survey can be accessed via the following link:; or simply click here

Improving existence guidance

The survey represents an important step in improving existing well user guidance and human health, and, as such, your participation is greatly needed and appreciated.

Target audience: Irish rural residents who receive their drinking water from a private well.

Confidentiality: Participation in the survey is entirely voluntary and respondents may withdraw at any time they wish, without consequence.

All survey data is confidential and anonymous; no participant details will be shared with any third party or made identifiable upon publication of results.

The survey (hosted by SurveyMonkey) contains a maximum of 38 questions and will take approximately 10-12 minutes to complete.

For further information and enquiries, please contact Simon Mooney by email at: [email protected].


  • EPA (2017) Focus on Private Water Supplies. Wexford: Environmental Protection Agency;
  • HPSC (2016) Annual Epidemiological Report 2016. Dublin: Health Protection Surveillance Centre;
  • Murphy, H.M., Prioleau, M.D., Borchardt, M.A. & Hynds, P.D. (2017) Review: Epidemiological evidence of groundwater contribution to global enteric disease, 1948-2015. Hydrogeology Journal, 25(4): 981-1001.