Hungary: a Water Superpower

Hungarian water resources are outstanding in the region, thanks to the prevailing hydrogeological conditions in the Carpathian Basin. Due to a thousand years of experience, prominent expertise has developed in water management and the industry is up to the highest standards. Hungary is not only rich in quality drinking waters with developed water infrastructure but also a “healing garden” because of its extensive thermal water resources.

A strong tradition

The region’s abundant thermal water resources were already known to the Celts who inhabited today’s Hungary over two thousand years ago. The Romans who settled in the area in the 1st century BC started to exploit the thermal springs naturally rising to the surface in the city of Aquincum, the provincial capital. During the 150 years of Ottoman rule in the 16th and 17th centuries, a large number of baths were built, some of which, in today’s Budapest are still in use this day.

The first panel of the Royal Laws of Hungary with regard to water management had already appeared in the 12-13th century. The various state institutions and regulations designed to enforce common water related goals have gradually evolved and expanded into an integrated system of water management over the past 200 years. Regularisation of the two large rivers, the Danube and Tisza, as well as their tributaries, started more than 150 years ago. Similarly, a considerable wealth of experience has gathered in irrigation, inland navigation and water supply. The first water board, the Sarviz Regulating Board, was created in 1810, with the Tisza Valley Water Board following in 1846.

A prominent personality was Pal Vasarhelyi (1795-1846), who elaborated, among others, the plans of the Iron Gate (Vaskapu) on the River Danube regulation and the River Tisza regulation. By 1846 he had prepared comprehensive regulation concept currently known as Vasarhelyi’s Tisza Regulation Plan.

Hungary is located in the Carpathian Basin, which forms a topographically discrete unit set in the European landscape surrounded by the semi-circular Carpathian Mountains. Two thirds of the country is lowland (84% of the Hungarian territory is below the altitude of 200 m) with strong continental influence.

Source: The Carpathian basin and Hungary’s main hydrological features (Somlyódy, 2002)

Hungary also has significant experience and can therefore sustain control and advanced tools in handling extreme floods. Due to its location one quarter of the country is exposed to floods, which is exceptional in Europe. Flood dykes of 4200 km length protect 700 settlements, 2.5 million people, 2000 industrial plants and indirectly about 30% of the GDP.

Water resources

Hungary has a highly significant freshwater resource in international comparison. Groundwater is available throughout the country in sufficient quantity; it is the major source of drinking water supply.

The specific surface water resources amount to about 11,000 m3/cap/year, while the average surface water inflow amounts to yearly 112 km3. In contrast, Hungary’s contribution to the outflow (600 m3/cap/year) is by far the smallest on the continent.

The available groundwater resources are estimated at about 2,410 million m3/year, from which porous aquifers makes up 1,910 million m3/year, while karst water is 500 million m3/year. In addition to these resources, rivers flowing in their gravel terraces can provide “bank filtered” water.

The geothermal water potential of the country also stands out: approximately 90 million m3 of thermal water can be used annually, from which 44% is utilised for energy production or recreation. There are around 1,400 thermal water wells in the country.

The total water abstraction at present is about 6,000 million m3/year, 75% of which is for cooling water use. Within the remaining segment, the public is the major user with 40%, industry takes one quarter and agriculture uses the rest (irrigation 15%, an extremely low value, fishponds 5% and animal breeding 15%).

Alone in Budapest, over 68 million litres of water per day bubble into 118 springs and boreholes. The city of spas offers an astounding array of baths, from the sparkling Gellert Baths to the vast 1913 neo-baroque Szechenyi Spa to the Rudas Spa, a dramatic 16th-century Turkish pool with original Ottoman architecture.

Major figure of the water management

  • Water consumption decreased by about 50% compared to the late 1980s. Today consumption remains stable with an average daily use per person of about 100-110 litres of water on a national level. While in Budapest the average daily consumption is 150-160 litres/person, in large cities it is 120-130 litres, in small villages it is as low as 50-70 litres.
  • 75% of the homes are connected to sewage systems.
  • According to expert opinion, no significant long term changes in the demand for drinking water can be expected compared to the current household consumption level of 400 million m3/year. Consumption for public and industrial purposes will also remain in the region of 170 million m3/year.
  • Over 90% of the national water supply relies decisively on groundwater or riverbank filtered wells.

As an outstanding personality Jozsef Gruber (1925-1972) is known as hydrodynamic researcher who achieved outstanding results in the hydrodynamic flow processes and machinery research. He was the rector of the Budapest University of Technology from 1961 to 1964. One of the largest reservoir in Budapest inside Gellert Hill is named after him.

Drinking water: a Hungarian asset for thousands of years

Groundwater (water porous aquifers, karst water) in Hungary is available throughout the country in sufficient quantity; it constitutes the major source of drinking water supply. Every settlement in Hungary has public water works; some 98% of the population have access to drinking water supply, with approximately 94% of homes connected to the water pipeline network. The remaining part of the population is able to obtain water from utility services within a maximum of 150 metres from their home. The quality of the water supply in Hungary is adequate from public health view point; even general opinion says that Hungarian tap water is “truly tasty”. Long term demand for drinking water can be safely satisfied from available resources.

The quality of the water supplied by the waterworks in the major part of the country complies, in the chemical as well as in the physical aspects, with the strict EU regulations and standards. Until 2015 over 3.2 billion EUR will be invested to improve the quality of drinking water, mainly in the areas where the specific natural mineral content requires treatment.

Due to the prevailing hydrogeological conditions vast stocks of water in geologically and physically protected underground water sources contain dissolved mineral salts, elements, or gases (= mineral water) in Hungary. Currently there are 120 wells and springs that provide recognized natural mineral water, from which 45-50 are bottled and marketed. Mineral water bottling has now become one of the most dynamically developing sectors of the Hungarian food industry. Consumption of mineral water in the last 20 years has sharply increased, reaching at the end of the last decade, 100 litres per person annually; this is growing by 5-10 litres per year. Export of mineral water has been steadily growing in the past years.

Green and sustainable economy: geothermal water

Hungary’s geothermal features are rather favourable. Drilling into relatively smaller depths is sufficient to reach temperatures that are higher by 1 degree than generally in the world. On about 80% of Hungary’s territory, thermal water with temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius can be exploited.

It is estimated that there is over 455.000 PJ capacity of geothermal energy available. The geothermal installations in Hungary are estimated to have a total capacity of 694.2 MW. Installations are used in a variety of applications such as crop drying, green house heating and district heating.

Water for recreation: Hungary is a healing garden

International tourist guides listed Hungary and its capital city Budapest as the number one destination for thermal water and wellness recreation. Thermal water is now recommended for a wide variety of health problems, from stress to joint pain, from gynaecological conditions to skin complaints. Throughout the country, the many thermal baths and high-quality spa facilities can accommodate 300,000 people at the same time. Major and popular ecotourism destinations for holiday activities and water sports are: Lake Balaton, Lake Velencei, Lake Tisza, River Danube, River Tisza and Szigetkoz, to name but a few.

Perhaps the jewel in the country‘s sparkling crown is Heviz, a thermal lake of almost five hectares adorned with water lilies. The lake at the south-western corner of Lake Balaton is brimming with warm, alkaline and slightly radioactive water, rich in potassium salts, sulphur and hydrogen carbonate. The spring‘s powerful curative properties include relief for rheumatism, treatment for gynaecological complaints and stimulation of metabolism.  

Source: Hungarian Investment and Trade Angency, (HITA), “The Hungarian Water and Sanitation Industry in the 21st century”, 2013.

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