The public health legislation designates most councils as sanitary authorities. Town councils which were formerly Town Commissioner towns were not sanitary authorities. Most of the powers functions and responsibilities of sanitary authorities are now exercised by Irish Water. The legislation has been modernised.

A sanitary authority has the power to provide water within its district. It may construct and maintain waterworks. It may contract with any person for the supply of water.

The recent Water Services legislation have reenacted the provisions of the Public Health legislation in more modern format.

Powers of Sanitary Authorities

The sanitary authority had power to construct water pipes and infrastructure within its district in the same manner as sewer. It is the duty of sanitary authority to provide and keep wholesome, pure and wholesome water in any waterworks constructed or purchased it by it.

Where an adequate  water supply is not provided in an area, the local authority may with the consent with the Department may spend money or make a grant of money to persons for the  purpose of improving or maintaining the private water supply.

When a coherent system of local authorities responsible for water, sewerage as well as general public health issues  was established in the mid-1870s and was consolidated by 1878 legislation.  The key provisions of Waterworks Clauses Act were applied to the sanitary authorities. The provisions were extended by the Waterworks Clauses Act, 1863, also a model act.   They remained the basis of many of the key nuts and bolts of legislation regarding water supplies until recent legislaiton.

Historic Charges

The sanitary authorities had the powers to make charges for water supplied. This has been a controversial area which has been amended under several occasions.

The power to charge for water for domestic purposes is limited. There is power to charge for business use by reference to quantity used, rateable valuation or other criteria. There is an appeal to Department of the Environment for persons aggrieved by water charges.

A water charge where permitted may be recovered against the person to whom water is supplied. It may be charged in two annual moieties. It is payable on demand. It is recoverable as a simple contract debt by the sanitary authority. Sanitary authorities have powers to discontinue water supplies where charges remain unpaid for certain period.

The undertaker has powers to let and hire water meters to measure water consumption.  It  may charge for the rent of such meters.  The water authority has powers to enter any building to inspect meters, installation of pipes, apparatus etc for the purpose of ascertaining the quantity of water used.

The powers in respect of domestic premises are delimited.

Authority to Provide

The authority was obliged to cause pipes to be laid and water brought to every part of the town or district within the limits of the authority where they are required or requisitioned to do so by a certain number of owners or occupiers.

Under the legislation the number was calculated by reference to the relevant water rate.If the authority failed to comply with the  requisition made by the requisite number of owners who have agreed to take the supply for at least three years, then if the authority failed within 28 days to lay the roads and connection pipes, the authority was subject to a penalty.

Where land is connected to the public water supply through a pipe passing through third party land, the local authority may be required by the owner to undertake repairs as  maybe necessary over that third party land.  Expenses incurred must be repaid by the owner of the building.

Where the sanitary authority fails to provide to adequate water or sewerage (where it is providing this service), a complaint may be made Department of the Environment. If the Department is satisfied that the authority is failed to provide and maintain adequate sewage system of water supply or enforce public health duties, the Department after holding an enquiry, may order the authority to do so.

An authority is obliged to provide and keep pipes and to supply pure and wholesome water sufficient for domestic use of inhabitants of the area covered by the requisite authority.  The owners are to be entitled to demand supply,  provided,  they are willing to pay any water rate applicable (not now applicable). The supply of water for domestic purposes is not to include the supply of  water in the course of a trade, manufacture and  business or the supply of  water for gardens, or other ornamental purposes.

Water Standards

The water must be maintained at a constant pressure to reach the top storey of the highest heights within limits unless the special authority provides otherwise.

The authority is not subject to penalty for failure to provide water due to floods, droughts, unavoidable causes or accidents.

The water to be supplied need not be maintained under constant pressure.  The authority may require the owner to be supplied with a cistern to hold water with a ball and stop cock.  This must be maintained and repaired by the occupiers and used to prevent water from running to the waste.

Misuse of Water

It is an offence for a person not having a supply of water from the undertakers for other than domestic purposes to use it other than for domestic purposes.  It is an offence for a person having a supply other than for domestic purposes to use other than for the purpose of which he hasn’t agreed to take the supply, has the supply.

It is an offence to waste water due to the cistern not being kept in repair.  The authority may repair the cistern.  The  expenses may be recovered from the person who is liable to repair.

The authority may enter house and supply with water between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm to examine if water is being misused.  If permission is refused, it  may turn off the water supply.

Infrastructure Misuse

There are a range of offences constituted in respect of any injury, damage or interference with a water meter. Any such interference damage etcetera to is an offence which maybe prosecuted subject to a fine of up to €1,270.

If a person wrongfully interferes with anything required like legislation for the prevention of waste misuse, contamination etc the authorities are empowered to cut off water pipes and cease water supply for so long as the cause of the injury or damage maintained.

It is an offence for a person to take water from a reservoir, water course or conduit belonging to the authority or any pipe etc. unless he has agreed to be supplied with water by the authorities.  Breach is subject to penalties.

It is an offence to damage, break, or open any part of the authority’s equipment or infrastrucrure..  Breach is subject to a fine of up to €1,270.

Where a person wilfully or negligently damages or breaks f any pipe, ballcocks, cistern, bath, water closet, or other apparatus or fails to  repair so that water is likely to be wasted, misused, contaminated, he is guilty of an offense subject to a penalty of up to €1270.

It is an offence for an owner or occupier of premises supplied or any consumer or other person to extend or fix any apparatus to pipes whether they belong to the authority or the owner concerned.  Subject to a fine of €1270.

It is an offence for a person who has not been supplied with water by the authority to wrongfully take water from a reservoir, water course, or pipe belonging to the authority of many pipe leading to the same.  This is subject to a penalty of €1,270.


It is an offence to spoil or contaminate water.  It is an offence to bathe in a stream,  reservoir or waterworks belonging to the authority or  wash or cause any dog or animals to  enter such water.  It is an offence to throw any rubbish filth or polluting matter into any such water or to cleanse any soft wool, leather or skin of any animal or clothing.

It is an offense to cause the water of any sink, sewer, drain or filthy water to enter  any stream, reservoir, aqueduct or other water works belonging to the undertaker or to do anything whereby the water may be spoiled.

It is an offence for entities supplying gas within the relevant area to permit substances or byproducts of gas to enter streams etc.  This is subject to penalty on an ongoing basis.  The water authority has power to open grounds to examine gas pipes.  24-hour notice must be given to the gas suppliers.  The authority is obliged to reinstate the premises.

Water for Public Purposes

Water must be supplied for the purpose of cleansing sewers and drains and watering streets.  The authority is obliged to provide water, fire pumps in the mains and other pipes at such places as may be proper and convenient for the purpose of extinguishing fire.  They must be renewed from time to time and kept in good order.

Sanitary authorities may provide water for public baths for trading or manufacturing on terms and conditions as may be agreed.


The local authority has powers to prevent interference with the flow of water or pollution.  Local authority is not entitled to interfere with navigable rivers and canals in exercising its powers.

A sanitary authority with the consent of the Attorney General bring proceedings for purpose of protecting any stream or water course from pollution. In practice, this legislation has been still superseded by modern water legislation.

The sanitary authority may apply to court to remediate any contaminated water source or restrict its use permanently or temporarily.

The authority may take samples of many water supply servicing inhabitants for analysis.  If the water is found unsafe, it may take all reasonable steps for one user that it is unfit for consumption.

It is an offence for a person engaged in the manufacture of gas or gas washings to allow it to enter the public water supply.

Much more comprehsensive anti-pollution legislation was subsequently enacted. See the separate sections.


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