Water is such an important resource that affects our quality of life to such a degree that it is even monitored for the OECD better life index. What is more, clean water is a major factor for a clean environment too. But there can be many problems with tap water in the modern world–even in many developed economies.
For example, The New York Times reported “unsafe lead levels in tap water are not limited to Flint,” and all of us have read numerous warnings in the news about rocket fuel, lead and germs in tap water affecting millions of Americans.
Headlines like these cause people to worry about their water supply, but let’s try to dispel some of these fears by listing the top 10 countries with the purest drinking water in the world.
What is even more encouraging is that with the right preventative measures, drinking water doesn’t have to be heavily chlorinated to be safe for drinking.
Examples of countries with the best tap water to drink
Switzerland – No treatment needed
Switzerland is a mountainous country, with the Alps spanning over two thirds of the country’s territory and 48 mountain peaks rising higher than 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level. The mountainous terrain as well as having a high level of rainfall per year (on average 1,431 mm) that refills the groundwater supplies naturally are the main factors for the excellent water quality.
In fact, the quality of drinking water in Switzerland is the same as the quality of mineral water. The water is so clean that half of water coming from the tap in Switzerland hasn’t been treated in any way, and therefore, does not have any chemical aftertaste .
This is because 40 percent of drinking water comes from natural springs, other 40 percent from pure groundwater and the remaining 20 percent are taken from pristine lakes .
In some locations, like for example in Geneva and Zurich, the drinking water is purified lake water that tastes slightly different than the natural untreated water. But except for taste, this water is still exceptionally high quality.
Realizing what a valuable commodity water is, Swiss citizens and government have taken measures in the last three decades to protect country’s water resources. One such measure is a ban on phosphate in laundry detergents and another important step involved switching to sustainable agriculture practices that minimize the application of fertilizers and pesticides.
Iceland – Soft and cold groundwater
Iceland, often referred to as ‘The Land of Fire and Ice,’ is an island located amidst the harsh waters of North Atlantic and home to the most voluminous glaciers in Europe. The glacier Vatnajökull spans over an area of 8,100 square kilometers and covers around 8 percent of the Iceland’s territory . Vatnajökull together with other smaller glaciers distributed across the island affect water quality and distribution.
The geographical position of the island shapes the climate, making it very rainy. In fact, on average at least 15 days each month are rainy or snowy in Iceland . Such a high precipitation is what makes Icelandic groundwater of an excellent quality.
The remaining 5 percent of drinking water are drawn from the surface water bodies and need to be treated. However, Iceland doesn’t use chlorine to treat its water. When needed only UV treatment is applied .
Additionally, the island’s volcanic geology results in soft water with a very low mineral content and cold temperature .
Water resources in Iceland are naturally pristine and abundant, but despite that, the government has been actively protecting drinking water resources. In 1995, a water safety plan was implemented. The interesting part is that the plan classifies drinking water as a food source .
United Kingdom – Comprehensive water testing
Many of us have heard of the rainy weather in the United Kingdom. The country is well-known for sudden weather changes with rain or hail quickly replacing the perfect sunshine, especially in the late fall and winter months when some areas (in general mountainous regions in the north west – the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District) receive lot of precipitation .
The country is rich in water resources, taking its drinking water from 1,947 groundwater reservoirs and 338 surface water bodies . But it’s not the availability of water resources that ensures the country’s best tap water quality to drink, it is the comprehensive testing and monitoring program that guarantees the quality.
The United Kingdom has strict water regulations. It uses a decentralized system with independent inspections for each of the countries within the United Kingdom. They each produce a report every year.
For example, 3,853,350 water quality tests were carried out in 2014, out of which only 32,000 samples (0.04 percent) failed to comply with one of the quality standards .
The EU drinking water directive and the advice of the World Health Organization are used as the basis for the drinking water regulation.
The only downside is that the water is often treated with chlorine to prevent spread of waterborne diseases. In fact, the town of Maidstone in England was the first to treat its water supply with chlorine in 1897 . Tap water in London also often picks up the chlorine aftertaste, as it is supplied from reservoirs upstream of the River Thames and the resulting water is hard.
Scotland, being the rainiest region with over 3,000 mm of precipitation each year, has the purest water to drink .
Norway – Pristine lake water
Norway is known as one of the best countries to live in and has a long history of valuing its environment and protecting water resources from pollution. This Scandinavian country receives plenty of precipitation and is rich in surface water resources that excel in quality.
Five percent of the land area of Norway consists of 455,000 lakes and another 25 percent of the landscape is covered by the four largest rivers, which are also managed for hydroelectricity generation .
Additionally, about 0.7 percent (in total 2,595 square kilometers) of the mainland is covered by glaciers and not everyone knows that the largest ice cap located on the European mainland is Jostedalsbreen glacier found in southern Norway.
Considering such an abundance in surface water resources, it should come as no surprise that 90 percent of tap water is supplied from the surface water and less than 10 percent originates from groundwater .
The quality of water is closely monitored on the national level and a new stringent legislation from 2017 regulates the drinking water quality, assuring that the water is without any aftertaste, discoloration or odor.
Nevertheless, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health reports that the pipeline system is outdated in some areas and could affect the water quality on the local level.
Sweden – Sophisticated water treatment technologies
Sweden, the neighbor of Norway, is another Scandinavian country that is well-known for protecting its natural resources and living in harmony with its pristine environment. Due to the local climate and geographical position, surface water resources are plentiful and naturally clean.
Swedes actually drink tap water more than bottled water and you can even get tap water for free in restaurants and other public places. According to personal opinions of many locals, Swedish tap water tastes as good as any spring water and is even refreshingly cold in most places.
About half of the tap water comes from lakes and rivers, the other half is supplied from the groundwater. Several international studies confirmed that the Swedish drinking water is consistently of a very high quality. Frequent testing, including household samples, required by the National Food Administration assures drinking water safety.
Stockholm has a particularly good water supply as it is serviced by two water treatment facilities which use some of the newest technology of mechanical and chemical purification .
Sweden is also the best country on select water indicators performing particularly well in how it treats wastewater. The country is able to do this because it has created some of the most sophisticated wastewater treatment technologies.
Germany – Groundwater protection zoning
Germany as a member state of European Union has to closely monitor and report every three years on the quality of the drinking water. The latest report from the German Environment Agency came out in the spring 2018 and concluded that the drinking water quality in Germany is very good. Only 0.01 percent of samples failed to comply with the strict quality requirements .
German punctuality and focus on quality and precision reflects even in the way the country treats its water supply. Germany has strict legislation that protects their water resources and the country’s treatment technology is on a very high level.
Drinking water quality from large central facilities is frequently tested – in some cases on a daily basis, and citizens have access to information about how clean their water is.
69 percent of drinking water originates from groundwater reservoirs and comes out as pure as mineral water. For example, the city of Berlin gets its water from groundwater aquifers that formed during the Ice Age and the water is directly potable without the need of chlorination .
The remaining water demand is covered from rivers and freshwater reservoirs (15 percent), or from artificially recharged groundwater supplies (16 percent).
Austria – Alpine spring water
Austria is a mountainous country in central Europe. Only one fifth of the country’s land area is suitable for intensive agriculture and industrial production, the rest consists of forests, alpine meadows, or rugged alpine peaks with crystal clear lakes and pure mountain springs.
High-lying alpine areas receive up to 3,500 mm of rain every year, so the groundwater aquifers are abundant and get naturally replenished. In fact, only three percent of available water resources are currently being used by Austrians.
Tap water in Austria is supplied from spring water and groundwater. The capital city of Vienna, for example, gets its drinking water from two springs located in the Lower Austrian-Styrian Alps. The water is so clean that it doesn’t need to be treated before reaching Viennese taps. This is also thanks to the extensive protection measures applied in main water basins .
High quality drinking water is mandatory under the Austrian law and the government controls supply facilities from where 90 percent of Austrians get their water.
Luxembourg – Excellent lake water quality
Luxembourg is a small landlocked country in Europe. It is a great place for nature lovers, as it features some well-preserved and picturesque natural landscapes. The country is also doing its maximum for protecting water resources.
According to a report published by the European Environment Agency in 2017, Luxembourg has achieved the ‘excellent’ rating of the water quality in all 11 of its tested lakes .
Two thirds of Luxembourg’s water supply come from underground aquifers and natural springs. The rest is supplied from a large dam near Esch-sur-Sure that was built for drinking water provision, hydropower and flood control.
The quality of tap water is ensured by protecting selected surfaces, particularly around pumping stations and in the 50-days zone. This zone represents an area from where the water need to travel to get to the pumping zones and it takes 50 days to travel the distance–hence the name.
All treatment facilities use ultrafiltration systems to purify their water, making it extremely clean .
Denmark – Better than bottled water
Denmark is one of the most developed countries in the world with a high standard of living. This Nordic country surrounded by the Baltic and North Sea is constantly exposed to the powerful force of the ocean – both in terms of climate and coastline erosion. Even their capital city, Copenhagen, is crisscrossed by numerous water channels.
Such a close connection to water is perhaps what shapes Danish love and care for their water. Swimming in Copenhagen’s harbor is a favorite leisure time activity of many city residents and drinking delicious tap water is taken for granted by nearly every Dane.
99 percent of tap water comes from rich groundwater reservoirs. In fact, even the capital city itself sits on a groundwater aquifer from where tap water for the city is taken.
Groundwater is strictly protected in Denmark and in general doesn’t need any chemical treatment. Before reaching consumers, water undergoes only filtration and aeration procedures.
The Mayor of Technical and Environmental Affairs Morten Kabell says that Danish tap water exceeds the quality and taste of any bottled water .
Netherlands – Extensive water purification expertise
Netherlands is a water-bound country.
26 percent of the country’s territory lies below sea level and nearly 17 percent of the land area is reclaimed from the sea by complex system of drainage canals and dikes. Originally, a large part of the country constituted of a delta of three large rivers (the Rhine, the Meuse and the Scheldt). Due to this fact, the country had suffered in the past many destructive floods, but throughout the years has developed elaborate system of water management and protection against floods.
This includes even the management of their drinking water supply.
In fact, the Dutch are one of the few nations in the world that do not treat their drinking water with chlorine. This is because their water undergoes multiple purification steps prior reaching the tap.
- sand filtration
- ozone, carbon and UV treatment
- filtration through special membranes
Additionally, most of the pipeline is younger than 40 years, which helps prevent unexpected pollution from corroding pipes.
So, where does the drinking water in Netherlands come from?
According to the Dutch Drinking Water Statistics from 2017, 58 percent is provided by groundwater, 41 percent from lakes and river and one percent is obtained from natural sand dune water.
How are water quality standards determined?
As we know, fresh clean water is necessary for life. Water is used for many purposes and is generally considered to be a human right and a public resource. In order to maintain clean and safe sources of water for present and future use, national governments have developed and enforced water quality standards.
Water standards have been developed in order to protect beneficial uses of water bodies such as fishing, swimming, drinking and to preserve healthy aquatic ecosystems.
These standards are used to evaluate water monitoring data to assess water quality, to identify polluted or impaired water bodies that need to be protected, and they are also used to set limits on commercial discharges and to determine cleanup activities.
Who is in charge of protecting water quality?
In order to protect water quality, most national governments as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) have instituted guidelines and legal limits for drinking water. Various government entities have instituted water quality limits to protect aquatic life as well.
Many countries have created national environmental protection agencies that have been designated for this and other environmental-regulating purposes, and in some cases, national governments have delegated this authority to provincial, state, or regional authorities to oversee water quality monitoring and regulation.
In addition to setting legal limits, authorities in charge set schedules to test water quality, set standard methods for the maintenance of water systems, and determine which methods for treating contaminated water are acceptable.
Water quality guidelines and monitoring
Water quality guidelines are based upon effects that have been observed in both humans and animals for various chemicals and contaminants. The limits for these substances are set at much lower levels than the observed problematic concentrations.
Field equipment may be used to measure water quality at a particular site, but in order to obtain the most accurate assessment the analysis of collected water samples should occur in a chemical lab.
Once the desired water quality level is observed, scientists work backwards to determine the maximum concentration that will be allowed in wastewater discharges, and then to develop the standard allowable level based on that amount.
Depending on the desired water use, different discharges under different environmental conditions may have different water quality standards.
Commonly measured water quality parameters
Common water quality parameters that are used for assessment include:
- aesthetic qualities
- cyanide, hardness
- fecal coliform
- total dissolved solids (salts)
- trace metals
- dissolved oxygen
- organic chemicals
Under circumstances where rigorous water quality assessment is not possible, watershed or river basin management boards can help to prioritize which water bodies need the most attention and protection.
What to do when you are traveling to a foreign country and are not sure about the water quality?
What you can do when traveling to countries with unsafe drinking water or in doubt is to bring a water bottle with an ultraviolet light purification system.
GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier Bottle is a great product to buy for this purpose:
According to the manufacturer, this bottle features a technology that can remove 99 percent of viruses and bacteria, and also successfully filters sediments, chlorine and heavy metals, such as lead. The bottle also removes odors and improves taste of water, so it is definitely a handy accessory to take with you on your travels.
When reading the characteristics of above mentioned countries, you can see a pattern that keeps repeating.
Countries with the cleanest tap water share some common features. They receive plenty of rainfall and are naturally rich in water resources.
These are specifics that have been affected by their geographical location, climate and topography. But you can also follow another repeating pattern – their governments have been actively protecting water resources and applying only the latest technologies to treat their drinking water and wastewater.
In many cases, they have been also known for being environmentally-conscious and not allowing heavy pollution from industries or intensive agriculture.
So, achieving a great water quality is not an easy task and involves significant national and international coordination and cooperation. But good quality, fresh drinking water is necessary for human health and quality of life.
Without water life cannot exist, therefore, it is absolutely reasonable to focus our collective efforts to protecting and improving the water quality worldwide.