The DESIGN Project


The DESIGN project (Detection of Environmental Sources of Infectious Diseases in Groundwater Networks) is an EPA funded project involving NUI Galway, UCC and Technical University Dublin (TUD) that aims to investigate whether private wells are a source of the zoonotic pathogens Cryptosporidium and Verotoxigenic E. coli. NUI Galway's role is concerned with the detection of this particular type of pathogenic E. coli in private groundwater wells. 

We need volunteers in or near Co. Galway who get their drinking water from a private well. 

We will be collecting and testing well water samples during September, October and November 2021.

Click here to read the DESIGN information for participants‌ and find out more.

Click here to sign up and get your water tested for free!

What's the DESIGN project about?

The E. coli that live in our intestines are not usually harmful, in fact they help us to break down our food. However, certain pathogenic E. coli strains that live in the intestines of cattle and sheep can be harmful to humans. These bugs can be present in high concentrations in sheep and cattle poo and can cause serious gastrointestinal illness in susceptible people, such as young children and the elderly. 

These bugs are known as Verotoxigenic E. coli (or VTEC). Confusingly, they are also sometimes called Shigatoxigenic E. coli (or STEC), these two names are interchangeable and refer to the same type of pathogenic bugs.

Ireland has the highest incidence of VTEC in Europe, in most years in and around 10 times higher than the European average. This is probably due to our high livestock and septic tank density (sources), high rainfall (which washes poo into the groundwater) and reliance on unregulated private groundwater wells for drinking water. The problem usually happens when the head of the well isn't sealed correctly and surface water containing manure gets in and contaminates the well.

The DESIGN project will identify whether private wells are contaminated with VTEC and identify weather, geology and local/infrastrucal features that may be linked to well contamination. This will help us to DESIGN better risk management strategies to protect well owners and their families. 

For details on how to protect your private well see

What will we do?

We will be collecting water samples from private wells in and around Co. Galway during September, October and November 2021.

  • We will collect a large sample (30 litres) of untreated water from your outside well tap and/or your kitchen tap.
  • We will also ask you some simple questions about your well, and take some site measurements, such as well depth, water table level, and distances from the well to the road, agriculture, and other potential pollution sources.
  • Samples then will be returned to the lab and tested for the presence of coliforms and E. coli using the standard water microbial quality testing method.We will also test the water for potentially harmful bacteria including VTEC.
  • A report with microbial quality results, and interpretations and recommendations based on these results, will be emailed to you within a few weeks of sampling (free of charge).

 Go on, sign up for DESIGN!