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Testing bore water quality

Bore water should be tested and deemed safe before being used for drinking, cooking, use in swimming pools or watering edible plants such as home grown vegetables.

Testing varies between private bores and commercial or community-based bores however all bores need to have microbiological (E. coli) and chemical quality testing prior to use.

Undertaking testing

All testing of the water samples from a private and commercial or community-based bore should be done by a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited analytical laboratory. Contact details for the laboratories can be found under “Analysts” in Yellow Pages®. Advice should always be sought from the laboratory regarding the appropriate way to collect a sample.

If at any stage there are changes in appearance or odour, immediate water quality testing is advised.

Refer below for more information on what is tested and the frequency of testing for both private bores and commercial or community-based bores.

Interpretation of results

The laboratory usually will provide a certificate of results, listing the concentrations of microbes and chemicals found. Contact SA Health’s Scientific Services for assistance with interpretation of your test results.

Chemical results

The results of the analysis of water intended for human consumption are compared to the Australian Drinking Water Guideline values. Some chemical parameters however, may not be regulated by the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Microbial results

The detection of E. coli, an indicator of microbial contamination shows that maintenance and/or treatment is inadequate and requires immediate investigation. E. coli should not be detected in a minimum 100 mL sample of drinking water.

An alternative source of water should be used for drinking and food preparation or the bore water should be boiled prior to use. Should you wish to use contaminated water for other domestic purposes contact SA Health’s Scientific Services for assistance.

Failed test results

Finding a solution for bores that have failed chemical or microbial testing needs to be done on a case by case basis. The remedy, if possible, will depend upon the levels of contaminates found, the cause of contamination, and the intended use of the water.

If the water fails a chemical test, alternative water supplies are recommended and the results discussed with SA Health’s Scientific Services. Note that boiling water cannot remove chemicals.

If the microbiological test fails, alternative water supplies should be used for drinking and food preparation or the bore water should be boiled prior to use.

Testing requirements

Private bores

Both microbiological and chemical quality tests need to occur prior to use, particularly where the previous history of the bore is unknown. If at any stage there are changes in appearance or odour, further water quality testing is advised.

Bore water intended for drinking, cooking, use in swimming pools or watering edible plants should undergo a phase one test, and if applicable a phase two test.

Phase one testing

Phase one looks at the following parameters:

  • E. coli (as an indicator of faecal contamination)
  • Fluoride
  • Nitrate
  • Arsenic

Phase two testing

Phase two testing is to be conducted if phase one testing results are satisfactory. Phase two testing looks at the following metals:

  • antimony
  • barium
  • boron
  • cadmium
  • chromium
  • copper
  • lead
  • mercury
  • molybdenum
  • nickel
  • selenium
  • sulphate
  • uranium.

For urban bores, phase two testing should also include analysis of volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene commonly found in shallow bores west of the city.

Commercial or community-based bores

Bore water used for any commercial purpose (such as food premises) or for community-based supplies (such as schools or caravan parks) requires routine testing to ensure that the water is suitable for drinking as defined under the Food Act 2001.

Testing frequency

Testing frequency may vary depending on the community type and size served by the bore so contact your local Council Environmental Health Officer or the SA Health’s Scientific Services to determine adequate testing regimes. As a general rule, the type of quality testing and frequency conducted is:

  • microbiological - every three months
  • chemical quality - every two years.

Regular testing should form part of a documented risk management plan for the water supply. For assistance in the development of a drinking water management plan, refer to National Health and Medical Research Council’s Community Water Planner.

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