Drinking water – our most valuable food

“Water must be suitable to be drunk or used without endangering human health.” This is what Paragraph three of the Austrian Drinking Water Ordinance says. In 2010, the United Nations anchored access to clean water as a human right. Water is our livelihood. As food  It provides us with important minerals, but contaminated drinking water can cause diseases and is a major problem in some parts of the world. Caution should be exercised when dealing with our most important resource.


Legal requirements for drinking water

What drinking water is is defined in the Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act (LMSVG) and in the Drinking Water Ordinance (TWV). It must be clear, cool and tasteless and must not contain any pathogens that cause illness. The water that flows out of the tap in Austria meets these criteria. But this is not the case everywhere in Europe – in Spain, for example, tap water is not suitable for consumption in some areas. There are significant differences in the origin of the water. Because drinking water can be obtained in different ways.

Groundwater, surface water, rainwater or seawater is the basis for drinking water. Groundwater is mostly used in Austria. So that the quality of the water can be maintained, all supply systems must carry out an inspection at least once a year. The following parameters are tested:

  • nitrate
  • Pesticides
  • pH value (hydrogen ion concentration)
  • Total hardness
  • Carbonate hardness
  • potassium
  • Calcium
  • magnesium
  • sodium
  • chloride
  • sulfate

The results of these checks must be communicated to the customers. The information can usually be found on the water bill, but often also in the local newspaper. The drinking water database is an alternative. Here you can inquire about the measured values for your community online. If limit values are exceeded, this must be communicated to the consumer anyway. Measured values are always only snapshots – if everything fits today with the measurement, it can look completely different tomorrow. You can also do a water test yourself between measurements by the community  carry out. This provides a remedy for concerns about water quality. Of course, this also provides a snapshot, only regular checks can ensure the water quality in the long term.


Quality through the right preparation

If water is taken from bodies of water for drinking water use, it is called raw water. If this is not of the right quality, it must be processed. Some groundwater is filtered so well by mineral rock that it can be given to consumers in its pure form. Surface water, on the other hand, is always contaminated with microbes. It has to be processed and disinfected. So that the hygienic and health requirements of the Drinking Water Ordinance can be met, water usually has to be treated in some form. Most often, iron removal and manganese removal are used. Other common methods are:

  • Deacidification
  • Slow / fast filtration
  • Flocculation
  • Hardening
  • Adsorption with activated carbon or powder carbon
  • Dosing of corrosion inhibiting substances
  • oxidation
  • Membrane filtration
  • softening

The biggest problems are therefore foreign substances that have to be filtered out, as well as an unsuitable pH value. The pH value is in equilibrium with the hardness-forming substances calcium and magnesium. At the same time, alkaline water with an increased pH value is hard, while acidic water is soft. Many problems can arise in connection with this. Soft water attacks pipes, dissolves pollutants from them and accelerates the formation of rust. Hard water, on the other hand, can clog pipes and lead to the well-known limescale deposits on fittings and household appliances.


Be careful with domestic wells

In Austria around 90 percent of the population get their water centrally from the water suppliers. However, every tenth household has a house well. Anyone who purchases a plot of land also owns the groundwater underneath – there are no other requirements for a house well. Just as the central suppliers have to constantly check their water, so do home well owners. The recommendation of the Ministry of Health is to have a water analysis carried out at regular intervals. The checks should be carried out annually and be carried out by a qualified testing agency. Even if the water has not changed visually or in terms of taste, it can be dangerous.


Tap water is more convincing than mineral water

For fear of germs and pollutants in tap water, more and more consumers are turning to bottled mineral water. But it is a mistake to believe that this is healthier. Tap water is better controlled than mineral water, it has to be checked for more foreign substances. Some pollution cannot be excluded with mineral water, especially not germs. Neither tap nor bottled water has to be germ-free, but according to the ordinance, neither must contain any pathogens that cause disease.

It is worrying that many mineral waters are sold in plastic bottles. It becomes particularly problematic with sparkling water. In a test by the Austrian magazine “Konsument”, an increased content of acetaldehyde was found in 21 out of 25 mineral waters. This substance has a “fruity-aromatic” taste and was put on the list of substances suspected of having a carcinogenic effect by the EU. Analyzes have also shown that mineral water often contains fewer minerals than ordinary tap water. Bottled water is first and foremost successful marketing. You could simply bottle and sell water from your home well, it would be in no way inferior to most mineral waters in terms of quality.