Small-scale drinking water supplies

Fenced well to prevent drinking-water contamination.Click to enlarge
Drinking water from small-scale water supplies

Fenced well to prevent drinking-water contamination.

Source: Bettina Rickert/UBA

Small-scale systems are important for a safe supply with drinking-water, particularly in rural areas. Experience has shown that they are often facing challenges, for example with respect to qualification of operators, resource protection and surveillance. Generating an enabling environment is therefore important for their safe operation.

Table of Contents


Undivided health protection for drinking-water

In Germany, the requirements governing drinking water quality must be met by all drinking water supplies, regardless of their size, the quantity supplied, the number of persons served, or organizational and ownership structures. Therefore, all minimum requirements stipulated in the German Drinking Water Ordinance also apply to private wells as well as to small public supplies. Such facilities are also subject to surveillance by the authorities. By adopting this approach, Germany ensures non-discriminating, undivided health protection with respect to drinking water for all citizens.


Part of the rural population is supplied with water from private wells

In Germany, around 99.4 % of the population were connected to the centralised public water supply in 2016. While the level of connection to central water
supply is expected to increase slightly in the future, a significant proportion of the rural population will continue to be supplied from private wells.

As most of the parameters laid out in the EC Drinking Water Directive are met in 99.9 - 100 % of cases, overall, the drinking water quality from large, central, public supplies is considered to be "very good". For small and medium sized central supplies which serve approximately 12 % of the population, the level of compliance is only slightly lower at 99%. However, the available data on drinking water quality from private wells indicate that it is more difficult for such facilities to comply with microbial and chemical quality requirements, and that this area therefore offers potential to improve drinking water quality.


Support for safe operation of small-scale water supplies

Identified deficits, particularly with respect to private wells, include a lack of technical knowledge by the owners about legal obligations derived from the German Drinking Water Ordinance, about potential risks to drinking-water quality, about appropriate operation, as well as possibly required remedial measures. The technical standard DIN 2001-1 describes requirements for private wells with respect to planning, construction and operation of these systems.

Implementation of a Water Safety Plan (WSP) supports the safe operation of water supplies, including small ones. UBA, together with TZW, developed a compendium for WSP implementation targeting small public water supplies in order to support the practical implementation of this approach in small systems in Germany.



Recommendations for action from the joint working group on small-scale drinking water supply systems

A joint working group on private wells exists which includes representatives of the Federal States (Länder) and Federal authorities. During regular meetings, this group discusses aspects on how to improve small water supplies. It developed an advice booklet containing recommended actions and information on safe operation of private wells, which provides general information on different types of wells, on legal obligations, advantages of regular self-checks by operators, on prevailing risks in the vicinity of wells, and on structural damages as well as options for repair, control and surveillance.

To enable local health agencies to provide competent advice on the safe operation of private wells, these systems have to be known to the agencies in the first place. Therefore, these small water supply systems also have to be notified to the authorities according to the German Drinking Water Ordinance.


International work on small scale water supply and sanitation systems

At the international level, Germany, together with Serbia, co-leads the activity on small scale water supply and sanitation systems under the Protocol on Water and Health.

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 drinking water  small water supplies  private wells