Drinking water in Germany again rated "very good"

Limit values only seldom exceeded – nitrate in drinking water not present in high concentrations

clear water is poured in a glassClick to enlarge
Drinking water in Germany is "very good"
Source: bigfoot / Fotolia.com

Drinking water from large central facilities in Germany continues to have very good quality, say the results of the latest report on drinking water quality published today by the German Environment Agency (UBA). Cases of limit value exceedance – as in previous years – remain the absolute exception. Even nitrate, a problematic chemical which is present in groundwater in excessive concentrations, especially in regions where intensive agriculture is common, has not exceeded its limit values in drinking water for several years. More than 99.99% of the monitored samples comply with the strict legal requirements of microbiological and chemical quality. The current report by UBA includes the results of tests done at all major water utilities from 2014 to 2016. The utilities supply roughly 88 percent of Germany's households with water. The data is based on information provided by the federal states (Länder) to the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) and UBA.

UBA's President, Maria Krautzberger, said: "Drinking water in Germany is perfectly safe to drink – it can even claim to be excellent quality when supplied by the larger water utilities. Drinking water is subject to frequent testing, sometimes daily. In addition, tap water is by far cheaper than bottled water. A two-person household in Germany spends an average of 54 cents per day for a daily consumption of 242 litres of drinking water – that is 0.2 cents per litre. A single litre of bottled water costs more than that."

The new data on nitrate, which can leach from chemical fertilisers and slurry into groundwater, reaffirm the decline which had already been registered: cases of excessive traces in drinking water remain a rare exception. However, the data on nitrate content in drinking water provide no correlation to nitrate content in the raw water treated to produce drinking water. Mass livestock production and excessive fertiliser use in agriculture are actually causing nitrate concentrations to increase in groundwater. Drinking water itself is uncontaminated virtually everywhere: less than one part per thousand in the drinking water samples taken from large water utilities in Germany showed levels above the limit value of 50 mg/l for nitrate. It is the water utilities which assume responsibility for compliance with the limit value: whenever necessary, water with excessively high concentrations is mixed with pure water, thus ensuring drinking water quality. In extreme cases, the treatment of one cubic metre of water (1,000 litres) will end up costing customers roughly one euro more on their water bill. As a result, it would cost a two-person household with a water consumption of 80 cubic metres of water more like 140 euros rather than the usual average of 95 euros per year.

Of the 267 monitored substances in drinking water grouped under plant protection products (PPP) and biocidal products or their metabolites (degradation products), only very few were measured at levels above the low limit value of 0.1 micrograms (= .0001 milligrams), and even then, only slightly so. The measured concentrations pose no threat to health. In order to prevent substances used specifically as PPP or biocides from entering drinking water, the limit value for an individual substance is far below the concentration which would amount to any toxicity. Nevertheless, an incidence of non-compliance requires the determination and elimination of its cause.

Limit value exceedances for lead, a toxic heavy metal, occurred in less than 0.1% of the samples. Neither nature nor the water works are to blame but rather the lead pipes or fixtures in buildings and homes. Outmoded installations are often also the reason why water can contain too much copper, nickel and cadmium. The only solution is to have professionals install certified pipes and fixtures. The limit value for lead is ten micrograms per litre of drinking water. The operators of drinking water supply stations must inform consumers if their system still contains lead, even if the limit value is in compliance.

The European Drinking Water Directive requires the Member States to submit a drinking water report once every three years. This concerns 2.490 water service areas in Germany including their respective distribution systems and domestic drinking water installations which supply an average of more than 1,000 cubic metres of water per day or more than 5,000 people. The 4,350.1 million cubic metres of drinking water supplied in these water service areas are composed of 69% groundwater and 15% surface water, with the remaining 16% supplied from bank filtrate, artificially recharged groundwater and other resources.

Local water utilities also provide information about drinking water quality, often with daily updates posted online.

Umweltbundesamt Hauptsitz

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau