been a catalyst for human civilisation. Cities in Mesopotamia, Pharaonic Egypt and many others were all built close to rivers, lakes or the sea to give access to water, support agriculture and allow citizens to explore neighbouring areas. Today, access to clean water remains at important issue for all of us. Pure water or unpolluted water is already scarce worldwide. In fact, of the world’s available water, only 0.003 percent is unpolluted¹. Countries invest heavily in water management and purification services to make sure tap water is safe to drink, that our seas, rivers and lakes are safe for the wildlife they support but can also still be used recreational for us in swimming etc. In many ways, reliable access to clean water can also be seen as an indicator of a nation’s affluence. We would expect high quality water and access in countries which are adequately regulated have a robust economy and where people enjoy high living standards².
And yet in some parts of the world people still don’t have access to clean water. 663 million people, that is one 1 in every 10 people, lack access to safe water³. Given its importance, the UN Sustainable Development Goals set out that by 2030, we need to “achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all”⁴. The water crisis is the number one global risk based on impact to society (as a measure of devastation), as announced by the World Economic Forum in January 2015³.
But there is also some good news. Some countries have been able to reach a remarkable level of water purity and their experience can be a useful example for us in our search for making clean water accessible to all.
Switzerland, Norway and Sweden enjoy some of the cleanest water in the world². All three countries have some of the most advanced water treatment solutions providing extremely high quality drinking water. Furthermore, Sweden’s lakes and Norway’s Fjords are considered as having some of the most crystal clear waters across the planet².
While these countries have heavily invested in developing water treatment solutions that help manage their water resources across most of the Western world our water has suffered as a consequence of industrialisation, intensive agriculture and other human activities that have been polluting our environment.
So does this mean that we have lost really pure water which has not undergone any artificial treatment? Scientists say there still are some places where we can enjoy naturally pure water.
One such place is a small village near Toronto Canada which is very appropriately names Springwater. According to William Shotyk, a Toronto-born environmental geochemist who is a professor at the Institute of Earth Sciences at Germany’s Heidelberg University, the water in Springwater contains five times less lead than the cleanest ice layers in the Arctic⁴. This is pretty impressive as the Arctic samples date from 5,000 to 8,000 years ago, long before the onset of atmospheric lead pollution while the water tested is only about 50 years old. Shotyk has been testing the water for 20 years and believes that the reason this water is so pure is because of the unique environmental conditions of the surrounding landscape. Through a combination of upland ecosystems which remove contaminants and a sealed aquifer system protected by layers of impermeable clay, the water is filtered to this amazingly high standard⁵.
More research has unveiled other preserved water bodies. One astounding discovery took place in Puerto Williams in Santiago Chile where researchers from the University of Magallanes and the University of North Texas in the US confirmed that the waters there are the cleanest on this planet⁶,⁷. The water samples were so pure that researchers said it was like they were looking at an ecosystem that had existed before the Industrial Revolution.
The researchers collected samples of water for ten days from different water sources and tested it with high spec instruments that can detect chemical compounds in the water up to two parts per million. In this case, the instruments did not detect anything.
While this is the purest water to be ever recorded, the study indicates that extremely pure water has also been found in Torres del Paine National Park, also in Chile’s Magallanes region, in south-eastern China, western Australia and Upstate New York.
It is important to keep up efforts to conserve our water resources, help maintain the ecosystems that can purify them and ensure that our efforts to clean the water we use for our economic and other activities is treated to an appropriate degree so it can be re-used and released into our environment again safely.