Understanding Water Quality Standards For Both Drinking Water, & Non Potable Water

Freshwater can be used as both drinking water, and non potable water.

In the guide below, we outline how water usually has to meet different water quality and water safety legislation, standards, regulations and requirements in different countries and regions around the world, and where different types of water, or different end uses of water are involved.

We provide several examples to show how requirements can differ from place to place.


(*Note – this guide contains general information only. It does not contain professional advice)


Summary – Understanding Water Quality Standards For Both Drinking Water, & Non Potable Water

The Different Uses Of Water

The freshwater that we withdraw from different water sources across society is used for different end uses, with the main two being potable water, and also non potable water


– Drinking Water (Potable Water)

One main end use is potable water/drinking water, with tap water being a common form of drinking water

Bottled water is another way we drink water, with rainwater harvesting (via private supply for example) being another


– Non Potable Water

Many of the other main uses of water fit into the category of ‘non-potable water’ (i.e. non drinking water)

Irrigation in agriculture, cooling in electricity generation, and household water use, are all some common examples


The Water Quality Of The Water Sources We Use Across Society

In different cities and towns across the world, different water sources like surface water and ground water sources have different water quality levels

For example, some water might be too saline, some water might contain contaminants or pollutants, or there could be a range of other water quality issues with the water in it’s natural form

We usually test and treat water in order to make it suitable for an end use like drinking (particularly in the public tap water supply)


Water Quality & Water Safety Legislation, Standards, Regulations & Requirements In Different Countries & Regions

Prior to testing and treating water, we need guidelines in place that outline safety requirements of the water that we withdraw (or collect) to drink or use

What this means is that different countries can have different national frameworks and guidelines in place, but each State or region within a country may have their own legislation, regulations and standards in place too

Additionally, water used for different end uses usually has different water quality and water safety standards it has to meet too – to make sure the water is ‘fit for purpose’ for it’s end use 

Non potable water used for irrigation in agriculture for example usually has to meet different testing and regulation guidelines than drinking water in the public supply

From the guide below, it’s also clear that the quality and safety of each of public supply tap water, bottled water, and privately collected rainwater, may each fall under different regulations or authorities too (depending on the jurisdiction of course)


Examples Of Water Quality & Water Safety Legislation, Standards, Regulations & Requirements

In the guide below, we provide potential examples of the water quality and water safety legislation, standards, regulations or requirements for:

– Drinking Water In The US

– Bottled Water In The US

– Drinking Water In Australia

– Bottled Water In Australia

– Rainwater In General (both rainwater used privately, and rainwater served to the public or employees)

– Non Potable Water Used For Different Uses


*Note About Water Safety, Water Use, & Water Consumption

Make sure you confirm your local water safety and water quality standards, regulations and requirements prior to using or drinking water (especially since information such as the information contained in this guide may become outdated over time)

Seek out the advice of a qualified expert if you are unsure if water is safe to use or consume. 

The general information in this guide is not a substitute for either of these things.


Drinking Water Legislation, Standards & Regulations In The US

The US currently has the ‘Safe Water Drinking Act’ (SDWA) in place on the national level

The EPA sets minimum national drinking water standards and regulations under the SDWA

These standards and regulations relate to various factors such as the legal limits for different contaminants (i.e. the maximum contaminant levels for chemical and microbial contaminants, and any other relevant contaminant), treatment requirements for all contaminants, and also water-testing schedules

Beyond this, the SDWA gives individual States the ability to formulate and implement their own standards as long as these standards at least meet the minimum national standards set by the EPA

cdc.gov mentions (paraphrased) that The EPA monitors States, local authorities and water suppliers who enforce the standards

cdc.gov also mentions that (paraphrased) public water systems and community water suppliers must provide an annual report to it’s customers (sometimes called a ‘Consumer Confidence Report’), which contains information about the drinking water, such as water quality, and other relevant information


Other Information

epa.gov lists and provides more information on the regulations relating to different contaminants, right-to-know rules, unregulated contaminants (which have to be reviewed every certain amount of years), and other drinking water information


cdc.gov lists and explains different drinking water regulations, such as the ‘National Primary Drinking Water Regulations’, and also the ‘National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations’


Bottled Water Regulations In The US

cdc.gov mentions that (paraphrased) the SDWA doesn’t apply to bottled water, and bottled water is instead ‘regulated by the US Food & Drug Administration’ (and not the EPA)


Drinking Water Guidelines, Legislation, Standards & Regulations In Australia

Australia has the ‘Australia Drinking Water Guidelines’ (ADWG) on the national level

These guidelines are intended to be a framework or basis for drinking water supplies in Australia, and also to assure safety

However, according to nhmrc.gov.au: ‘The Guidelines are not mandatory legally enforceable standards and [their implementation] is at the discretion of each state and territory’

The States having more responsibility to set and implement water standards seem to be backed up by wikipedia.org: ‘The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia states that natural resource policy, including that relating to water, is a responsibility of the States [although] … The Minister for Water is in charge of water policies at the federal level’

Below are examples of how State legislation and regulations can differ in Australia, with Victoria and South Australia used as the two examples:


– Victoria

In Victoria, the Safe Drinking Water Act 2003 and the Safe Drinking Water Regulations 2015 are in place to provide safe, quality drinking water

The Act covers factors such as risk management framework, standards for key water quality criteria, information disclosure requirements for water businesses, and community consultation processes

The Regulations were made under the Safe Drinking Water Act 2003

health.vic.gov.au notes that other legislation relevant to drinking water supply and quality includes the Food Act 1984 and also the Health (Fluoridation) Act 1973


– South Australia

In South Australia, the Safe Drinking Water Act 2011 and the Safe Drinking Water Regulations 2012 are based on the implementation of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines

sahealth.sa.gov.au notes that (paraphrased) this Act and these Regulations also have things in common with interstate and international legislation

This Act and these Regulations cover things such as registration of drinking water providers, risk management plans, monitoring programs, incident notification, audits and inspections, reporting and provision of results, and more

The Act in particular doesn’t apply to domestic use of rainwater tanks or other private supplies 


Bottled Water Standards In Australia

waterra.com.au mentions (paraphrased) that the Australia Drinking Water Guidelines don’t cover the quality of bottled and packaged water in Australia

Bottled and packaged water might currently be regulated under the Food Code by Food Standards Australia New Zealand


australianbeverages.org mentions (paraphrased) that there are testing requirements for the processing and bottling of water, and the owners of the water sources that bottled water comes from must maintain accreditation (which involves reports and audits) 


What About Rainwater Regulations In Different Countries?

Rainwater regulations, standards, and requirements can differ between locations around the world

There may especially be different regulations, standard or requirements if the rainwater is being used privately, or whether rainwater is used to serve the public or employees

In NSW in Australia for example, rainwater served to the public or employees currently has to comply with the NSW Public Health Act 2010 (paraphrased from health.nsw.gov.au)

In New South Wales in Australia, the listed health.nsw.gov.au report outlines some of the relevant rainwater safety requirements 

In the US specifically, different States have different regulations and restrictions on rainwater harvesting (some States even have very heavy restrictions on rainwater harvesting)

So, it’s important to check rainwater safety regulations, standards and requirements in a specific area before installing or using rainwater equipment

We discuss some other aspects of rainwater regulations in this separate guide


Water Quality Of Non Potable Water Used For Irrigation, Industry & Other Uses

For all other uses of water other than drinking water, there can be different testing, regulations and guidelines in place.


Agriculture & Irrigation

If we take water used in agriculture for irrigation as one example:

– The water used for farming can impact the soil, the crops they are used on, the people who consume agricultural products, yields, and other aspects of the agricultural sector and wider society (which makes water quality and safety important)

– Issues specific to water used for agricultural irrigation might include salinity, the water infiltration rate, specific ion toxicity, and other miscellaneous problems.

– In some regions of the world, water used for irrigation may only need to meet independent water quality testing standards, assessed via chemical laboratory analysis by an independent and accredited laboratory.

But, it some places and for some uses it may also need to meet national or State standards codified in regulations.


The US and Australia both have resources on irrigation water quality, testing, and other aspects of irrigation water and agricultural water:


– United States

lenntech.com provides information on ‘Irrigation water quality’

fao.org provides further information on ‘Water quality evaluation information’

fda.gov provides further information on ‘Water quality and testing of agricultural water’


– Australia

dpi.nsw.gov.au provides more information on ‘Irrigation water quality’  

agriculture.gov.au provides more information on ‘Irrigation water quality guidelines’


Other Types Of Non Potable Water

Other uses for non potable water may have their own water quality requirements

cdc.gov for example provides further information about all three of agricultural water, industrial water, and medical water


Researching Drinking Water Quality

We already wrote a guide on researching drinking water quality in different countries and cities.

The variables and factors we mention in that guide demonstrate how there can be different levels of tap water quality in different cities and countries around the world

We also mention how water can be tested independently, separate to official water testing


Cities & Countries With The Best & Worst Drinking Water & Tap Water

Read more in this guide about the cities and countries with allegedly the best and worst drinking water and tap water supplies.

In this guide we also list what might be some of the cities or countries with the most contamination tap water.


Potential Solutions To Improve Water Quality Related Problems

Read more in this guide for general solutions to improving water quality related problems.




1. https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/433643/Irrigation-water-quality.pdf

2. https://www.lenntech.com/applications/irrigation/quality/irrigation-water-quality.htm

3. http://www.agriculture.gov.au/water/quality

4. http://www.waterquality.gov.au/anz-guidelines

5. http://www.fao.org/3/T0234E/T0234E01.htm

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/drinking-water-quality-in-different-countries-cities-how-to-know-if-tap-water-is-safe-to-drink/

7. https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/drinking-water-regulations

8. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/regulations.html

9. https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-drinking-water-guidelines

10. https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/about+us/legislation/safe+drinking+water+legislation

11. https://www.health.vic.gov.au/water/drinking-water-legislation

12.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_supply_and_sanitation_in_Australia#Responsibility_for_water_supply_and_sanitation

13. https://www.waterra.com.au/research/water-quality-guidelines/

14. https://www.australianbeverages.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/86782_ABC_WaterBrochure_A4DS.pdf

15. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/water/Pages/rainwater.aspx#bookmark6

16. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/how-did-fda-establish-requirements-water-quality-and-testing-irrigation-water-under-fsma-final-rule

17. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/other/resources-agricultural.html


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