Safe Drinking Water Act 2001 (DHW 2021-22 Annual Report)

Part 8 – Miscellaneous

S 50 – Agreement and consultation with local government sector

  1. The Minister must take reasonable steps to consult with the LGA from time to time in relation to the administration and enforcement of this Act.
  2. If the Minister and the LGA enter into an agreement with respect to the exercise of functions under this Act by councils, then the Minister must prepare a report on the matter and cause copies of the report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.
  3. A report under subsection (2) must be accompanied by a copy of any relevant written agreement between the Minister and the LGA.
  4. The Minister must consult with the LGA before a regulation that confers any function on councils is made under this Act.
  5. The annual report of the Minister under this Act must include a specific report on-
  1. the outcome of any consultation undertaken under subsection (1) or (4); and
  2. the operation of any agreement referred to in subsection (2).

S 51 – Annual report by Minister

  1. The Minister must, on or before 30 September in each year, prepare a report on the operation of this Act for the financial year ending on the preceding 30 June.
  2. The Minister must, within 6 sitting days after completing a report under subsection (1), cause copies of the report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

S 52 – Annual reports by enforcement agencies

  1. An enforcement agency (other than the Minister) must, on or before 30 September in each year, furnish to the Minister a report on the activities of the enforcement agency under this Act during the financial year ending on the preceding 30 June.

The Minister must, within 6 sitting days after receiving a report under subsection (1), cause copies of the report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

The objectives of the Safe Drinking Water Act 2011 (the Act) and Safe Drinking Water Regulations 2012 (the Regulations) are to:

  • ensure that drinking water supplied to the South Australian public is safe.
  • provide direction to drinking water providers on how to achieve a safe drinking water supply.
  • implement principles of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011 (ADWG).

The Act requires:

  • registration of drinking water providers.
  • development and implementation of Risk Management Plans (RMPs) for individual drinking water supplies including approved monitoring programs and incident protocols.
  • audit or inspection of drinking water supplies.
  • reporting of incidents to the department.
  • provision of water quality results to the public on request.

The Department administers the Act with assistance from local government. Activities undertaken by local government are outlined in council reports in Appendix 3.  Within the Department, the Water Quality Unit is responsible for day-to-day administration of the Act with assistance from the Health Protection Operations and Food Safety and Audit Sections of Health Protection and Licensing Services.

Registration of drinking water providers

During 2021-22, the Department registered 11 new drinking water providers while five drinking water providers cancelled their registration. On 30 June 2022, there were 180 drinking water providers registered with the Department. Some providers include multiple drinking water supplies under one registration. SA Water has a dual registration which includes a total of 85 water supplies while the Department for Education’s single registration includes 61 schools and preschools.

As required under Section 11 of the Act, the Department maintains a list of registered drinking water providers on the SA Health website.  Councils are advised of drinking water providers within their area as a minimum on an annual basis.

Risk management plans

All drinking water providers must have a Risk Management Plan (RMP) that includes an approved monitoring program and an incident protocol. During 2021-22, the department reviewed RMPs for new drinking water providers and provided assistance as required. Advice was also provided on the review and amendment of RMPs for existing providers where sought or required to rectify non-compliance identified as part of a drinking water inspection or audit.

Water quality incidents

Under Section 13 of the Act, a drinking water provider’s RMP must include a procedure for identifying, notifying and responding to water quality incidents.  The department receives notification of incidents and provides advice and direction on remedial actions required to maintain safety of drinking water supplies.

Incidents reported by SA Water

SA Water incidents are reported according to the interagency Water/Wastewater Incident Notification and Communication Protocol (the Protocol).  Under the Protocol the department fulfils the role of the Water Incident Coordinator.  Incidents are classified as Priority Type 1, Type 1 or Type 2 health incidents.

  • Priority Type 1 incidents are likely to require an immediate interagency meeting to develop responses and consider possible issuing of public advice.  In the absence of appropriate interventions these incidents could cause serious risk to human health.
  • Type 1 water quality incidents, in the absence of appropriate intervention could cause serious risk to human health.
  • Type 2 incidents represent a low risk to human health but may provide preliminary warnings of more serious incidents.

During 2021-22, the Department received notification from SA Water of 50 Type 1 incidents and 86 Type 2 incidents. The total number of reported incidents (136 incidents) was higher than 2020-21 (103 incidents) largely due to an increase in Type 2 incidents. There were no Priority Type 1 incidents during 2021-22.

The Department coordinated communication and responses for all Type 1 incidents and liaised with SA Water to ensure remedial actions or responses were implemented in a timely manner. 

A treatment plant failure at Gerard required substantial refurbishment and upgrading of operational monitoring. While this is being undertaken the community is being supplied with carted drinking water through the existing distribution system.

High rainfall events led to an increase in the detections of enteric protozoa (Cryptosporidium and Giardia) in drinking water catchments and source waters.  There were five Type1 incidents involving detection of enteric protozoa at the inlets to drinking water treatment plants (two samples) or in treated product water (three samples). However, the protozoa detected in the treated water samples were not human infectious. Protozoa were not detected in follow up samples. No faults were detected from the continuous monitoring of treatment plant performance during the periods when the protozoa were detected.

There was an increase in the detections of elevated cyanobacteria concentrations in drinking water reservoirs, but these were managed appropriately to prevent risks to drinking water quality.  

One third of Type 1 incidents were due to unauthorised recreational activities at drinking water reservoirs. The number of recreational use incidents was slightly lower than in 2020-21. The incidents did not have a measurable impact on drinking water quality.

Other Type 1 incidents included:

  • elevated concentrations of disinfection by-products in drinking water.
  • exceedances of health-related chemical guideline values.
  • minor overdosing of treatment plant chemicals.
  • cross connections between drinking water and domestic rainwater tanks
  • short term interruptions=/  to disinfection.
  • potential drinking water contamination following a mains break in close proximity to a sewer main overflow.

There was a small increase in the number of Type 2 incidents due to detections of E.coli in drinking water samples in 2021-22. These were isolated low-level detections, with follow up samples clear of E.coli. Overall compliance of E.coli monitoring remained very high.  

All water quality incidents were notified by SA Water in a timely manner. Appropriate remedial actions and responses were implemented following incidents to ensure the protection of public health was always maintained. Other than Gerard no incidents required public notification during the reporting period.

Incidents reported by other drinking water providers

In 2021-22 there were 13 drinking water incidents reported to the Department by providers other than SA Water.

There were four incidents of disinfection failure in drinking water supplies. In one case involving a surface water supply the drinking water provider notified customers not to drink the water while repairs were undertaken. The same provider also notified customers not to drink the water following a failure of their membrane filtration plant. The Department has worked with the provider to improve their on-line monitoring and alarm systems to reduce the time taken to detect faults.

Five incidents were due to the detection of E.coli in drinking water supplies sourced from rainwater tanks. Remedial action included immediate tank inspections, cleaning, chlorination, pipework flushing and follow-up testing for E.coli. All follow-up samples were free from E.coli.  

Other incidents included a short period of chlorine overdosing and a cross-connection between untreated and desalinated groundwater. In each case appropriate responses were implemented.

Approval of auditors and inspectors

Auditors and inspectors are approved under Section 15 of the Act in line with established competency criteria.  Approval as either a Level 1 or 2 Auditor or Level 3 Inspector is based on technical skills and experience.  The types of drinking water supply that can be audited or inspected by an individual are defined in approval conditions. In 2021-22, the Department:

  • approved eight Level 2 Auditors and one Inspector
  • reapproved one Level 2 Auditor following expiry of the existing approval
  • provided access to online drinking water quality training for local government employees
  • provided support for local government auditors and inspectors.

At 30 June 2022, there were 38 approved auditors and inspectors including independent auditors, department staff, local government employees and officers from Dairysafe. The department maintains a list of approved auditors and inspectors on the SA Health website.

Audits and inspections

The Act requires that all drinking water providers are subject to an audit or inspection every year or every two years as described in a schedule published in the Government Gazette. Reports of all audits and inspections are required to be submitted to the Department within 21 days of the audit or inspection being undertaken. Under Section 20(4) of the Act, the drinking water provider is responsible for ensuring the audit or inspection is carried out in accordance with the published schedule.

The Water Quality Unit oversees the audit and inspection program and where possible, coordinates drinking water audit and inspections with the activities of the Health Protection Operation and Food Safety and Audit Sections to avoid duplication and cost to providers.  Audits and inspections are also performed by local government and independent auditors. Dairysafe undertakes inspections of independent drinking water supplies used by dairy processors as part of existing food safety audit activities.

During 2021-22 the Department carried out a total of 34 audits and 23 inspections of drinking water supplies. The Department also received copies of three audit and seven inspection reports from local government and independent auditors including a comprehensive audit report of SA Water. The total number of audits and inspections undertaken was similar to last year, however, lower than in previous years because of disruptions associated with Covid-19. Drinking water supplies are categorised on the basis of potential risk based on factors including the type of water supply (e.g. surface water, bore water or rainwater), level of treatment, size of supply and vulnerability of users. Audits and inspections were prioritised with visits to drinking water providers rated as high risk (rating 1) completed during the reporting period (Table 1). 

Table 1: Audits and inspections based on risk ratings

Audits and inspections based on risk ratings
Risk rating Gazetted schedule Categories of drinking water providers Number of provisions Audit and inspections
1 Yearly audit SA Water, Regulated Care, Childcare and Preschool 28 27
1 2 yearly audit Small surface water supplies 4 3
2 Yearly inspection Dairies 1 0
2 2 yearly audit Mining camps 12 4
2 2 yearly inspection Schools, Food premises, Food and accommodation premises, Primary producers, Small bore and rainwater supplies 71 18
3 Yearly audit Regulated care with additional treatment of mains water 12 3
3 2 yearly inspection Water Carters, On supply of mains water with additional treatment, Emergency supplies 52 12

180 67

In a number of cases, audits and inspections led to advice being given to drinking water providers about potential improvements to the management of their drinking water supplies. Non-compliances identified in 2021-22 included incomplete or insufficient RMPs, failure to notify a water quality incident and lack of detail or absence of documentation relating to maintenance activities and water quality monitoring.

In one case a caution was issued to a drinking water provider due to a repeated failure to undertake required water quality monitoring.   

In a second case a non-compliance with a health-related chemical guideline value led to a drinking water provider choosing to de-register as a provider pursuant to the Act and to classify their supply as a non-drinking water supply.

The department provided advice and issued requirements for improvements to documentation and operational practices in response to the remaining non-compliances. Follow-up processes including changes in inspection/audit frequencies were implemented by the Department as required to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Act. The Department maintains a database of non-compliances reported as an outcome of audit and inspection of drinking water providers.

Quality of water and provision of results

Under Section 27 of the Act, drinking water providers must make results of any monitoring program available to the public.

SA Water provides consumers with water quality information through publication of data on their website and in their annual report. Other drinking water providers can provide results to consumers on request by letter, email or telephone.

Approval of laboratories

No laboratories were approved during the reporting period. Approved water quality testing laboratories are listed on the SA Health website.

Administration and enforcement

The Act incorporates enforcement provisions including the appointment of authorised officers with appropriate qualifications and experience.  An Instrument of Authorisation was signed by the Minister in November 2019 giving authorised officers authority to issue expiation notices pursuant to the Expiation of Offences Act 1996 for offences committed under the Act and Regulations.

In 2021-22, four new appointments were made within the department. At 30 June 2022 there were 15 authorised officers, all of whom are authorised to issue expiations. Authorised officers appointed by local government are provided in council annual reports (Appendix 3).

Consultation with the local government sector

Under Section 50 of the Act, the Minister must take reasonable steps to consult with the LGA from time to time in relation to the administration and enforcement of the Act. During 2021-22, consultation with the LGA on the Act was once again put on hold due to prioritisation of activities associated with Covid-19.  The Department continued to support local councils in the administration and enforcement of the Act, undertaking routine drinking water audits and inspections and providing assistance with complex water quality issues. Training opportunities for a number of councils to facilitate drinking water audits and inspections have been arranged in the coming months.