Ensuring safe drinking water with the Public Health Act 2010 and Public Health Regulation 2022

The Public Health Act 2010 and the Public Health Regulation 2022 require drinking water suppliers to have and comply with a ‘quality assurance program’ (or drinking water management system). This requirement applies to water suppliers defined in the Act, including water utilities, private water suppliers and water carters. Major water utilities, such as Hunter Water Corporation, Sydney Catchment Authority and Sydney Water Corporation, already have risk-based drinking water management systems as a requirement of their operating licences.

What is a drinking water management system?

A drinking water management system (DWMS) consists of documents, procedures and other supporting information for the safe supply of drinking water. The DWMS must address the elements of the Framework for Management of Drinking Water Quality (Australian Drinking Water Guidelines) relevant to the operations of the supplier. At the heart of the Framework are Critical Control Points (CCPs). A CCP is an activity, procedure or process that is critical to control a water quality hazard (for example chlorination and filtration/particle removal).

Implementing a drinking water management system

The DWMS must be kept current and regularly reviewed to ensure that it has been properly implemented and risks are effectively addressed. The DWMS must be internally reviewed by the water utility at least annually and a report provided to the local Public Health Unit (PHU). A complete review should be conducted in consultation with relevant stakeholders including the PHU and Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) Water every four years in line with Strategic Business Planning. NSW Health recommends the use of an external facilitator for the risk assessment workshop. There is also guidance on external review/audit below.

The utility should assess risks, and if necessary, test for indicator organisms, pathogens, cyanobacteria, pesticides, disinfection byproducts, per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), other organic compounds and radiological contamination. Microbial health-based targets provide an assessment of the microbial safety of drinking water, including Cryptosporidium. The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines now include guidance on these targets. See
Health-based targets for Cryptosporidium in regional NSW drinking water supplies for more information on Cryptosporidium risk assessments and the adoption of health-based targets in regional NSW. The local PHU can help with technical support for risks assessments through specialist contractors and, where applicable, project monitoring. The NSW Health Drinking Water Monitoring Program booklet also provides information on further testing.

The PFAS National Environmental Management Plan provides information on a range of activities that may be associated with PFAS (refer to Appendix B). NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has established a PFAS investigation program for prioritising sites around NSW where PFAS were used in significant quantities. Utilities should ensure that they have assessed the risk to drinking water from EPA investigation sites. The water utility should engage the local PHU, the polluter and other relevant stakeholders.

Drinking water management system review and audit

Review and audit of how drinking water quality is being managed is part of a sound preventive risk management approach. Water utilities should plan for external audit to demonstrate how they satisfy requirements of the Public Health Act 2010 and Public Health Regulation 2022. 
The NSW Guideline for Review and Audit of Drinking Water Management Systems will assist water utilities to complete annual internal reviews and external audits of their drinking water management systems.   

Internal annual review

The DWMS must be reviewed by the water utility at least annually to ensure that it is being properly implemented and risks are effectively addressed. The DWMS must be kept current.

The internal review should consider critical control point (CCP) performance, response to exceptions, and progress on actions and improvements. Utilities should immediately notify the Public Health Unit of any incident affecting drinking water safety, refer to the NSW Health response protocols for further information.

A brief annual review report should be provided to the local PHU. The DWMS should also be provided if any changes were made. CCP data monitoring and annual report templates are available to help utilities report and review DWMS implementation. Water utilities may use the templates below or develop their own format. Water utilities can contact their local PHU for assistance in using the templates.

NSW Health will, as part of its submission on annual Performance Monitoring, provide to NSW DPE Water the list of utilities that have submitted an annual review report.

External audit

Water utilities should consult with their local PHU to develop an external audit frequency. Some utilities have effectively had an audit of their DWMS with recent support projects and therefore may not require an audit in the near future. Water utilities should notify the local PHU of the intent to conduct an external audit of their drinking water management system by completing a notification form and submitting to the local PHU.
The water utility should discuss the scope of the review or audit with their local PHU. The NSW Guidelines for Drinking Water Management Systems provides the basis for a comprehensive audit of the elements of the Framework and a detailed audit criteria checklist is available in Appendix A of the NSW Guideline for Review and Audit of Drinking Water Management Systems or as a fillable excel spreadsheet DWMS external audit criteria checklist.
The audit should provide summary and detailed findings reports that:
  • focus on identifying opportunities for improvement, rather than adopting a pass/fail approach
  • provide clear and specific recommendations to improve drinking water risk management
  • prioritise recommendations in order of risk
An example of an external audit summary report can be found in Appendix B of the NSW Guideline for Review and Audit of Drinking Water Management Systems.  
The audit must be carried out by an independent reviewer approved by NSW Health. Reviewers seeking NSW Health approval to review and audit drinking water management systems should complete the application form online or download the application form and submit to the Water Unit.
The following reviewers have been approved by NSW Health to review and audit drinking water management systems: 

​Organisation Name

For more information

Current as at: Friday 17 March 2023
Contact page owner: Environmental Health