Bore water (Groundwater)
How to test your bore water – follow the flowchart
What is bore water?
Bore water is groundwater that has been accessed by drilling a bore into underground water storages called aquifers. To use the water a person will need to have an electric pump or windmill that goes down the well to bring the water to the surface.
Groundwater from Adelaide’s residential bores and wells can sometimes be contaminated by:
- naturally occurring substances
- industrial or manufacturing activities
- agricultural chemicals
If your bore water is contaminated, coming into contact with it can pose a serious risk to health. This is especially the case if you use it to water your veggies, ﬁll a pool, top up a rainwater tank, wash or cook with, or pump through a sprinkler for the kids to play under.
If you are currently using or planning to use bore water, make sure your groundwater is safe to use by having it analysed at a professional, NATA-accredited water-testing laboratory.
Using bore water at home
I'm thinking of using bore water. Should I be testing the water quality first?
Unless it has been tested and shown to be safe for that use, the SA Health does not recommend the use of any groundwater obtained from a well or bore for any purpose.
For information on this testing, refer to SA Health's advice.
I'm already using bore water. What precautions should I be taking?
Bore water may be contaminated and unsafe to use. It should never be used for drinking, cooking, watering edible plants or filling up swimming pools unless it has been tested by a specialist laboratory.
SA Health has information on using bore water safely.
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.
What if I need help to understand the test results?
SA Health will be able to provide advice in its guide on bore water testing.
How do I know if the bore water in my area is contaminated?
What happens if I find out that my bore water is contaminated after testing?
SA Health can provide advice in its guide on bore water testing.
In the meantime, do not use bore water for any purpose until further notice. Mains water provided by SA Water and rainwater are not affected by this issue.
You will also need to notify the EPA on tel: (08) 8204 2004 or 1300 623 445 (country callers), or by email.
Duty to notify the EPA of groundwater contamination
The Environment Protection Act 1993 was amended on 1 July 2009, legally requiring property owners, occupiers, consultants and auditors to advise the EPA of any site contamination that affects or threatens underground water (section 83A of the Act). Persons with a duty to notify the EPA are legally required to notify the EPA in writing about the existence of the contamination as soon as they become aware of it. The EPA must record all notifications in its public register.
Understanding bore water
What causes groundwater contamination?
There are many chemical substances that can impact on groundwater. The impacts range from an unpleasant taste to imminent health hazards.
While contaminants are often described using their chemical names, it is often more helpful to understand what sort of industrial activity uses the chemicals, usually as solvents and degreasers .
In many cases, managing this contamination is a legacy of past practices – and may not have been caused by the current site owner.
Legislation in South Australia requires the notification of contaminated groundwater to the EPA. The legislation requires the EPA to record notifications in a public register. The EPA makes available on its website (through an index) basic details of each notification. All details are available upon request.
The types of activities which can cause contamination are also listed on the EPA's index of site contamination groundwater notifications. The types of activities include:
|Potentially Contaminating Activities – index list of s83a notifications (as at March 2015)||Percentage|
|Service station/motor repair||32.1|
|Liquid organic chemicals (solvents)||18.9|
|Waste and recycling||7.2|
|Infrastructure (road/rail/electrical etc)||2.6|
Does a notification always mean groundwater contamination exists?
Notifications can be for either potential or actual groundwater contamination.
Sometimes, subsequent research and testing proves that there is no groundwater contamination despite earlier concerns. Sites may also exist on the index even though they have been subsequently remediated, and in these instances there will be reports for this site on the public register that demonstrate site contamination containment or management.
Most sites are under active management and pose no threat to neighbouring communities. Petrol stations are a good example of this – fuel companies are active in managing their sites to ensure best practice environmental management and update their equipment and underground storage tanks to ensure no leakage into the ground.
Why does it seem as though there are more cases of groundwater site contamination?
The Environment Protection Act 1993 was amended on 1 July 2009, legally requiring property owners, occupiers, consultants and auditors to advise the EPA of any site contamination that affects or threatens underground water (section 83A of the Act).
Prior to this new provision, there was no requirement to notify the EPA. Under the 2009 change, the property owner and/or the site contamination auditor or consultant are now legally required to notify the EPA in writing about the existence of the contamination as soon as they become aware of it.
This amendment has been a vital improvement to protect public health. Being notified of potential contamination in this way enables the EPA to adequately assess the risk to the public, in collaboration with SA Health, and to ensure responsible parties take action to manage and clean-up contaminated sites.
What are the steps the EPA takes when it receives a notification of actual or potential groundwater contamination?
Public health is a paramount consideration at every step in the process and if a risk of harm to people is identified, a community engagement process to inform the potentially affected community is activated immediately.
When notified that actual or potential site contamination (soil and groundwater) exists in an area, the EPA’s first step is to:
- make a preliminary assessment, particularly to ensure exactly which properties/Certificate of Titles are affected,
- directly advise utilities and local and state government authorities so that they can be aware when planning any excavations in the area, and
- place a copy of the notification on the EPA Public Register, the EPA website and a public notice in the local media to advise that a notification has been received.
The EPA writes to the site owner outlining their responsibilities and obligations and assesses the notification to determine what further action may be needed. It also starts an ongoing dialogue with relevant parties, including SA Health, in determining the level of risk that may be posed to people and the environment. This process continues throughout each of the next steps.
Once the site contamination has been verified, the EPA needs to ascertain whether the contamination poses a risk to the public. This requires further investigation to determine the nature of the contaminant, such as:
- What are the concentration levels of the chemicals found?
- Are they able or likely to move (ie via groundwater or air)?
- If movement is possible or likely, where might it move to and how quickly?
This assessment is usually conducted by a site contamination consultant employed by the site owner or developer – who may not have been the person or company who originally caused the contamination.
As contamination usually relates to industrial use, the site owners are usually companies, who then engage consultants to undertake testing. The EPA may require that the process be supervised by an independent and EPA-accredited site contamination auditor and reports must be submitted to both the site owner and the EPA. The consultant and auditor’s fees are paid by the site owners.
The assessment process typically continues in an outwards direction from the source of contamination to determine its boundary and extent. This may occur in a series of stages, which can take several months for each stage.
It can include a range of activities such as modelling to determine the direction and rate of groundwater flows, as well as drilling of monitoring bores to sample groundwater. This is a complex and specialised process and is only undertaken by qualified professionals. If not done properly, there are risks that the contamination may not be adequately identified, or may be spread further.
Once the outer boundary of contamination is determined, the EPA considers a management plan with the site owner for managing the now defined contamination. This typically includes ongoing monitoring requirements and independent site audits, implementation of environmental guidelines relevant to the site and codes of practice to which the company must adhere.
If at any stage in the process the EPA becomes aware of test results or other information indicating a potential risk to public health, the EPA consults with SA Health. If real and actual risk to the community has scientific basis, either the responsible party and/or the EPA and/or SA Health communicates directly with affected residents and neighbourhoods.
If the results of the assessment indicate that there is a need for further testing inside private homes, then, with the informed consent of the owner and/or occupier, that testing will be conducted by the EPA.
A flowchart diagram showing how site contamination is assessed and managed is available.
View the EPA’s policy on public communication of site contamination issues.
What happens after an auditor recommends a Groundwater Prohibition Area (GPA)?
At the conclusion of a site contamination audit, the auditor will prepare a report which may make recommendations to the EPA in relation to contaminated groundwater. These may include the establishment of a groundwater prohibition or restriction area.
If a groundwater prohibition area is recommended the EPA may need to undertake its own investigations in order to implement a strategy that achieves the best outcomes for the community.
To establish a prohibition or restriction area, the EPA must be satisfied that
- there is site contamination that affects or threatens water; and
- action is necessary under this section to prevent actual or potential harm to human health or safety.
Assessment and remediation of groundwater contamination
The EPA has developed a risk-based framework for the assessment and remediation of groundwater contamination to ensure the protection of human health and the environment.
The assessment component incorporates a two-stage risk assessment process, including the development of a conceptual site model and beneficial use assessment.
Where the risk assessment process identifies a risk to human health and/or the environment, remediation may need to be carried out.
The EPA framework for remediation of groundwater contamination involves the development of a remediation proposal (in the form of a remediation options assessment) or an RTEN (remediation to the extent necessary) opinion, to be provided by a site contamination auditor. The approach selected will be determined by the level of risk identified.
See FAQs for more information on site contamination, groundwater contamination, and the EPA's role.
A groundwater prohibition area is established under section 103S of the Environment Protection Act 1993 (the Act).
This section of the Act, commenced on 1 July 2009. It allows the EPA to prohibit or restrict the taking of groundwater if site contamination exists and the EPA is satisfied that action is necessary to prevent actual or potential harm to human health or safety.
The community within the groundwater prohibition area then has the responsibility not to use the groundwater. This is essential to protect their own health and safety and possibly that of other community members.
The EPA is reviewing information on areas of known groundwater contamination and where there is sufficient information, and where it is appropriate, will establish groundwater prohibition areas.
The EPA will engage with affected communities where the establishment of a groundwater prohibition area is considered necessary.
Information on groundwater prohibition areas that have been established under the Act is available from the links below.
Current groundwater prohibition areas
- How to determine actual or potential harm to water that is not trivial resulting from site contamination
- Notification of site contamination that affects or threatens underground water pursuant to section 83A Environment Protection Act 1993
- Guidelines for the assessment and remediation of groundwater contamination
- Health guidance on the use and testing of groundwater