Drinking Water Private

People in rural areas of the ACT who have rain-water tanks or other private water supplies need to ensure that their water supply is safe.

There may be particular issues for water supplies in fire-affect areas, in addition to normal health-related issues which pertain to rainwater tanks.

Health risks

Water from rainwater tanks or deep bores is usually safe to drink. However, it can sometimes be contaminated by human, bird or animal faeces, usually from leaking septic tanks, wastewater drainage or bird or animal droppings on roofs.

Local streams may also be contaminated by runoff washed from farmyards, pastures and drains, making them generally unsuitable as a source of drinking water unless the water is properly treated.

Contaminated water

Contaminated water may contain harmful micro-organisms, such as viruses, bacteria (such as salmonella or campylobacter) and gastro-intestinal parasites (such as giardia or cryptosporidium). These harmful micro-organisms, known as pathogens, are not visible to the naked eye and may even be present in relatively clear water.

Drinking water containing these micro-organisms can cause severe gastro-enteritis, possibly lasting for several weeks. Infants, the elderly and people with suppressed immune systems are most likely to be affected.

Serious outbreaks of gastro-enteritis have occurred in some Australian states as a result of people drinking contaminated water. However, the risk of contracting these illnesses from water can be very greatly reduced by obtaining your drinking water from a clean, good quality source and regularly maintaining your water supply system.

Chemical contaminants

Chemical contaminants are usually less common than microbiological contaminants, but they can still be present in the rural environment.

For example, soil from old industrial, mining or agricultural areas may contain arsenic, heavy metals, pesticide residues or other chemicals.

If dust is blown onto your roof and is washed into your rainwater tank, chemical residues may build up in the water. Runoff from roofs in urban or industrial areas may also contain chemical pollutants from the air.

More information

The Health Protection Service can advise you on health issues associated with private drinking water supplies and can arrange to have your water tested. Contact them on (02) 62051700, email: hps@act.gov.au, or visit their offices at 25 Mulley Street, Holder (Mon. Fri., 8.30am-4.30pm).

Environment ACT has a wide range of free publications about water quality, bore water supplies dam supplies, toxic algae and rural land management. Contact them on (02) 207 9777, email: technical.environ@act.gov.au for copies, or visit their offices at 12 Wattle Street, Lyneham. EnvironmentACT web site.

More detailed information about planning, installing and using rainwater tanks can be found in the monograph 'Guidance on the use of rainwater tanks [142k pdf] from the South Australian Department of Human Services web site', published by the National Environmental Health Forum in 1998 (ISBN 0 642 320160). This can be purchased from the South Australian Department of Human Services on (08) 8226 7100.

If you have any questions about your health or the effect on your health of drinking from a particular water supply, please consult your family doctor.

If you would like to find out more about drinking water quality in Australia, visit the Co-operative Research Centre for Water Quality and Treatment's website.


It is not possible to predict every situation or circumstance in which community members may refer to this document. While all advice and recommendations in this document are made in good faith, neither the Department of Health and Community Care nor any other person associated with the preparation of this document accepts legal liability or responsibility for the advice or recommendations therein or for the consequences of relying on such advice or recommendations. You should satisfy yourself that any information you rely on from any source is appropriate for your own particular circumstances.


The Health Protection Service acknowledges the following sources in the preparation of this fact sheet:

Contact us

For further information, contact the Health Protection Service on (02) 6205 1700.