Key messages

  • Under the Safe Drinking Water Act 2003, the Department of Health and Human Services must be notified if drinking water does not or is not likely to comply with water quality standards.
  • The department must also be notified if drinking water is supplied that may pose a health risk or causes widespread public complaint.
  • Section 18 of the Act applies when drinking water does not comply or is not likely to comply with any relevant water quality standard. The department must be notified within 10 days.
  • Section 22 of the Act applies when drinking water may not be safe. The department must be notified immediately.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act 2003, the Department of Health and Human Services must be notified if drinking water is unlikely to comply with the standards, could pose a health risk or cause widespread complaints.

These obligations are set out in ss. 18 and 22 of the Act.

Section 18 notifications

Section 18 notifications apply when a water supplier realises that their supplied drinking water is unlikely to comply with the standard.

For the purposes of s. 18, the ‘relevant water quality standard’ refers to the standards specified under r. 12 of the Safe Drinking Water Regulations 2015.

For r. 12(a), Schedule 2, the compliance requirements indicate that three parameters must be monitored in every sampling locality (Table 1)

Table 1

Parameter Sampling frequency
Quality standard
Escherichia coli (E. Coli)
One sample per week
All samples of drinking water collected are found to contain no Escherichia coli per 100 millilitres of drinking water, with the exception of any false positive sample.
Total Trihalomethanes (THM) One sample per week
Less than or equal to 0.25 milligrams per litre of drinking water.
Turbidity
One sample per month
The 95th percentile of results for samples in any 12-month period must be less than or equal to 5.0 Nephelometric Turbidity units.

The compliance requirements for r. 12(b) relate to 'An algal toxin, any other pathogen, any substance or chemical not specified in Schedule 2 in such amounts that may pose a risk to human health'.

Water suppliers identify and monitor these health-based parameters with their water sampling program.

Water suppliers must provide a written summary of their results to the department when analysis does not comply with the standards. For more details on reporting requirements, refer to the Australian drinking water guidelines 2011.

Water suppliers must notify the department in writing within 10 days of detection. Notification must be made using the department’s notification form, Reporting known or suspected contamination of drinking water or the supply of non-complying water.

Section 22 notifications

Section 22 notifications apply when drinking water contamination is known or suspected. Notifications must be reported immediately to a departmental officer when:

  • the water may be the cause of an illness
  • the level of a water quality standard is such that it may pose a risk to human health
  • the water may cause widespread complaints.

A water business must notify the department immediately once it becomes aware of an issue, both verbally and in writing.    

Verbal notification

You can contact the department by phone during business hours. If there is no response the department can be reached by pager. If contacting the pager, make sure to specify your call relates to drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act 2003, and provide your name, the name of your organisation, and a contact phone number. The department will contact you promptly.

Written notification

Written notification must be lodged within 24 hours of the initial verbal notification.

Notification is made using the department’s notification form, Reporting known or suspected contamination of drinking water or the supply of non-complying water.

Sections 18 and 22 required together

Section 18 notification before section 22 notification

Section 18 notifications apply when a water supplier realises their supplied water is unlikely to meet compliance standards. When the water fails to meet standards to such a degree that it may present a health risk, a s. 22 notification must also be lodged.

Section 22 notification before section 18 notification

All E. coli detections in drinking water require an immediate s. 22 notification. E. coli is an indicator of faecal contamination and any detection could indicate a health risk.

E. coli is also part of the quality standards in Schedule 2 of the Regulations. If E. coli is detected, water suppliers are required to investigate and report their findings. Where the investigation and report determine that the standard has not been met, the supplier needs to lodge a s. 18 notification.

See Guidelines for the investigation and reporting of E. coli detections.