What comes out of the tap?

In an organised system of water supply infrastructure, it is a fundamental requirement that it should not only make water available, it should deliver safe and healthy drinking water of suitable quality to households. From time to time, the issue of drinking water quality is raised in Hungary, too. In Hungary, the regulation of drinking water quality is perfectly compliant with all EU regulations. The drinking water network and the water itself are tested regularly by both the service provider and the authority in charge of the sector.

Where does Hungarian drinking water come from?

Some 35% is derived from protected underground strata and deep water reserves. The underground water reserves are accessed using strictly protected, sealed wells. The depth of those wells varies from ten to several hundred metres.

Another 35% comes from riverside gravel beds, river-bank filtered water bases. The thick layer of gravel along the Danube operates as an excellent physical and biological filter. Thanks to that, the shallow (10-25 m deep) caisson wells and collector wells produce water that is drinking water grade, as attested by a great many laboratory tests.

Photo: Collector well

Karst water from the karsts of limestone and dolomite hills contributes 25%. The water stored in the multiply fractured systems of limestone and dolomite rock is called karst water. It is the best available quality drinking water which is very hard due to the calcium and magnesium ions dissolved from the rock, which generally does not require purification at all. Karsts are highly vulnerable, so they enjoy a high level of protection. The Bakony, the Vértes and the Bükk are such limestone and dolomite mountains in Hungary.

Photo: Karst water

5% is derived from surface waters: in Hungary, it is very rare that surface water needs to be used as drinking water. The water companies only employ that solution where there are no other, economically viable solutions. In Hungary, surface water is taken to be used as drinking water from the River Tisza (at Szolnok, for instance), a number of artificial reservoirs in the Bükk and the Mátra mountains, and from Lake Balaton. The raw water obtained has to go through a rather complex purification process before its quality complies with the stringent requirements. Drinking water does not need to be pure in the chemical sense, as pure H2O is impossible to drink and harmful to health, and it doesn’t occur in nature, either. Drinking water has to contain many, biologically important dissolved minerals, and their quantities are regulated down to the last detail. At the water treatment plant, specialists are working to ensure that the water complies with all the limits.

What guarantees the quality of water?

Suitable regulations, planning, controls and a reporting system ensure that up-to-date data is continuously available about the drinking water network, and they are also published on the websites of all the service providers. The Hungarian regulations are fully compliant with the European Union’s Drinking Water Directive, and Hungary was among the first to introduce the risk-based approach in the water supply sector, which provides more detailed and comprehensive water safety information than end-point monitoring. Thanks to water safety planning, the utility companies produce and maintain detailed risk analysis documentation, and they continuously report to the authorities about the work they do to reduce the probability of occurrence of risk factors. The Government Decree prescribing those rules specifies the compulsory components of water safety plans in great detail, all the way from the water source to the taps of end-users. Service providers review their water safety plans annually, and the plans are audited by two authorities.

Water quality measurements are assessed in accordance with three sets of parameters, microbiological ones, chemical ones and indicator parameters. Those in the last category are important from the perspective of operations, they are not linked to human health.

Drinking water in the capital

Although Government Decree no. 201/2001 (X. 25.) on the quality requirements applicable to drinking water and the rules of quality control does not prescribe testing for any remnants of pharmaceutical drugs and other chemicals used in the pharmaceutical industry, partly as a result of public and media interest in the issue, the laboratory of the Budapest Waterworks has cooperated with experts at the Budapest University of Technology on an R&D project to perform such measurements. During the project, they tested for the presence of the most frequently used medicines – steroid hormones and non-steroid compounds – in the service area of the Budapest Waterworks, i.e. in the water of the Danube, at their drinking water bases, and at points prior to and after water treatment. Using the currently available highly sensitive measuring techniques, they found no discernible levels of pharmaceutical residuals in the drinking water, despite the fact that the methods used are capable of detecting quantities as low as nanograms (one billionth of a gram).

In national comparison, the quality of the drinking water of Budapest is excellent, it is over 99.9% compliant with the standards governing drinking water. In 2015, compliance with chemical parameters was 99.13%, while compliance with the microbiological parameters stood at 99.6%. In comparison, at the national level, the overall drinking water standards compliance was 97.7% in 2015.

The above data also imply that in our country, the quality of drinking water is exceptionally good, and drinking tap water represents no health risk at all. This is confirmed by the fact that over the last ten years, there have been no significant diseases caused by tap water in Hungary at all.

One of the reasons for those excellent results is that Budapest derives its drinking water from the so-called riverbank filtered water base along the Danube, and the water quality of the Danube – partly as a result of the great yield – is much better than that of other European rivers, and what’s more, the natural filtering layer, which is several tens of metres thick, provides extremely efficient filtering, and therefore excellent quality drinking water for the city’s inhabitants.

 

Source: MAVÍZ, MTI