Drinking water, also known as potable water, is water that is safe to drink or to use for food preparation. The amount of drinking water required to maintain good health varies, and depends on physical activity level, age, health-related issues, and environmental conditions. Americans, on average, drink one litre of water per day and 95% drink less than three litres per day. For those who work in a hot climate, up to 16 litres a day may be required. Liquid water, along with air pressure, nutrients, and solar energy, is essential for life.
Typically in developed countries, tap water meets drinking water quality standards, even though only a small proportion is actually consumed or used in food preparation. Other typical uses include washing, toilets, and irrigation. Greywater may also be used for toilets or irrigation. Its use for irrigation however may be associated with risks. Water may also be unacceptable due to levels of toxins or suspended solids.
Globally, by 2015, 89% of people had access to water from a source that is suitable for drinking – called improved water source. In Sub-Saharan Africa, access to potable water ranged from 40% to 80% of the population. Nearly 4.2 billion people worldwide had access to tap water, while another 2.4 billion had access to wells or public taps. The World Health Organization considers access to safe drinking-water a basic human right.
According to the World Health Organization's 2017 report, safe drinking-water is water that "does not represent any significant risk to health over a lifetime of consumption, including different sensitivities that may occur between life stages".:2
A 'safely managed drinking water service" is "one located on premises, available when needed and free from contamination". By 2015, 5.2 billion people representing 71% of the global population used safely managed drinking water service.
The terms 'improved water source' and 'unimproved water source' were coined in 2002 as a drinking water monitoring tool by the JMP of UNICEF and WHO. The term, improved water source refers to "piped water on premises (piped household water connection located inside the user’s dwelling, plot or yard), and other improved drinking water sources (public taps or standpipes, tube wells or boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs, and rainwater collection)". Improved sources are also monitored based on whether water is available when needed (5.8 billion people), located on premises (5.4 billion), free from contamination (5.4 billion), and "within 30 minutes' round trip to collect water.':3 While improved water sources such as protected piped water are more likely to provide safe and adequate water as they may prevent contact with human excreta, for example, this is not always the case. According to a 2014 study, approximately 25% of improved sources contained fecal contamination.
The SDC basic drinking water service is one in which a "round trip to collect water takes 30 minutes or less". Only Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe have almost achieved universal basic drinking water services.:3
Importance of access to safe drinking water
The amount of drinking water required is variable. It depends on physical activity, age, health, and environmental conditions. In a temperate climate under normal conditions, adequate water intake is about 2.7 litres (95 imp fl oz; 91 US fl oz) for adult women and 3.7 litres (130 imp fl oz; 130 US fl oz) for adult men. Physical exercise and heat exposure cause loss of water and therefore may induce thirst and greater water intake. Physically active individuals in hot climates may have total daily water needs of 6 litres (210 imp fl oz; 200 US fl oz) or more. The European Food Safety Authority recommends 2.0 litres (70 imp fl oz; 68 US fl oz) per day for adult women and 2.5 litres (88 imp fl oz; 85 US fl oz) per day for adult men.
In the United States, the reference daily intake (RDI) for total water is 3.7 litres (130 imp fl oz; 130 US fl oz) per day for human males older than 18, and 2.7 litres (0.59 imp gal; 0.71 US gal) per day for human females older than 18 which includes drinking water, water in beverages, and water contained in food. An individual's thirst provides a better guide for how much water they require rather than a specific, fixed quantity. Americans, on average, drink one litre (35 imp fl oz; 34 US fl oz) of water a day and 95% drink less than three litres (110 imp fl oz; 100 US fl oz) per day.
The drinking water contribution to mineral nutrients intake is also unclear. Inorganic minerals generally enter surface water and ground water via storm water runoff or through the Earth's crust. Treatment processes also lead to the presence of some minerals. Examples include calcium, zinc, manganese, phosphate, fluoride and sodium compounds. Water generated from the biochemical metabolism of nutrients provides a significant proportion of the daily water requirements for some arthropods and desert animals, but provides only a small fraction of a human's necessary intake. There are a variety of trace elements present in virtually all potable water, some of which play a role in metabolism. For example, sodium, potassium and chloride are common chemicals found in small quantities in most waters, and these elements play a role in body metabolism. Other elements such as fluoride, while beneficial in low concentrations, can cause dental problems and other issues when present at high levels.
Fluid balance is key. Profuse sweating can increase the need for electrolyte (salt) replacement. Water intoxication (which results in hyponatremia), the process of consuming too much water too quickly, can be fatal.
Water covers some 70% of the Earth's surface. Approximately 97.2% of it is saline, just 2.8% fresh. Potable water is available in almost all populated areas of the Earth, although it may be expensive and the supply may not always be sustainable. Sources where water may be obtained include:
- Ground sources such as groundwater, springs, hyporheic zones and aquifers
- Precipitation which includes rain, hail, snow, fog, etc.
- Surface water such as rivers, streams, glaciers
- Biological sources such as plants.
- Desalinated seawater
- Water supply network
- Atmospheric water generator
Springs are often used as sources for bottled waters. Tap water, delivered by domestic water systems refers to water piped to homes and delivered to a tap or spigot. For these water sources to be consumed safely, they must receive adequate treatment and meet drinking water regulations.
The most efficient way to transport and deliver potable water is through pipes. Plumbing can require significant capital investment. Some systems suffer high operating costs. The cost to replace the deteriorating water and sanitation infrastructure of industrialized countries may be as high as $200 billion a year. Leakage of untreated and treated water from pipes reduces access to water. Leakage rates of 50% are not uncommon in urban systems.
Because of the high initial investments, many less wealthy nations cannot afford to develop or sustain appropriate infrastructure, and as a consequence people in these areas may spend a correspondingly higher fraction of their income on water. 2003 statistics from El Salvador, for example, indicate that the poorest 20% of households spend more than 10% of their total income on water. In the United Kingdom authorities define spending of more than 3% of one's income on water as a hardship.
In the US, the typical water consumption per capita, at home, is 69.3 US gallons (262 l; 57.7 imp gal) of water per day. Of this, only 1% of the water provided by public water suppliers is for drinking and cooking. Uses include (in decreasing order) toilets, washing machines, showers, baths, faucets, and leaks. Public water systems, defined as systems that serve more than 25 customers or 15 service connections, are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In some parts of the country water supplies are dangerously low due to drought and depletion of the aquifers, particularly in the West and the South East region of the U.S.
Access to potable water
In 1990, only 76 percent of the global population had access to drinking water. By 2015 that number had increased to 91 percent. 89% of people having access to water from a source that is suitable for drinking – called "improved water source". In 1990, most countries in Latin America, East and South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa were well below 90%. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where the rates are lowest, household access ranges from 40 to 80 percent.
Estimates suggest that at least 25% of improved sources contain fecal contamination. 1.8 billion people still use an unsafe drinking water source which may be contaminated by feces. This can result in infectious diseases, such as gastroenteritis, cholera, and typhoid, among others. Reduction of waterborne diseases and development of safe water resources is a major public health goal in developing countries. Bottled water is sold for public consumption in most parts of the world.
One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the UN includes environmental sustainability. In 2004, only 42% of people in rural areas had access to clean water worldwide. Projects such as Democratisation of Water and Sanitation Governance by Means of Socio-Technical Innovations work to develop new accessible water treatment systems for poor rural areas, reducing the price of drinking water from US$6.5 per cubic meter to US$1.
The World Health Organization/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation is the official United Nations mechanism tasked with monitoring progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) relating to drinking-water and sanitation (MDG 7, Target 7c), which is to: "Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation".
According to this indicator on improved water sources, the MDG was met in 2010, five years ahead of schedule. Over 2 billion more people used improved drinking water sources in 2010 than did in 1990. However, the job is far from finished. 780 million people are still without improved sources of drinking water, and many more people still lack safe drinking water. Estimates suggest that at least 25% of improved sources contain fecal contamination and an estimated 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water which suffers from fecal contamination. The quality of these sources varies over time and often gets worse during the wet season. Continued efforts are needed to reduce urban-rural disparities and inequities associated with poverty; to dramatically increase safe drinking water coverage in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania; to promote global monitoring of drinking water quality; and to look beyond the MDG target towards universal coverage.
One organisation working to improve the availability of safe drinking water in some the world's poorest countries is WaterAid International. Operating in 26 countries, WaterAid is working to make lasting improvements to peoples' quality of life by providing long-term sustainable access to clean water in countries such as Nepal, Tanzania, Ghana and India. It also works to educate people about sanitation and hygiene.
Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is a partnership that brings together national governments, donors, UN agencies, NGOs and other development partners. They work to improve sustainable access to sanitation and water supply to meet and go beyond the MDG target. In 2014, 77 countries had already met the MDG sanitation target, 29 were on track and, 79 were not on-track.
Climate change aspects
The World Wildlife Fund predicts that in the Himalayas, retreating glaciers could reduce summer water flows by up to two-thirds. In the Ganges area, this would cause a water shortage for 500 million people. The head of China's national development agency in 2007 said 1/4th the length of China's seven main rivers were so poisoned the water harmed the skin. United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has said this may lead to violent conflicts.
Contaminated water is estimated to result in more than half a million deaths per year. Contaminated water together with lack of sanitation was estimated to cause about one percent of disability adjusted life years worldwide in 2010.
Over 90% of deaths from diarrheal diseases in the developing world today occur in children under five years old.:11 Malnutrition, especially protein-energy malnutrition, can decrease the children's resistance to infections, including water-related diarrheal diseases. Between 2000 and 2003, 769,000 children under five years old in sub-Saharan Africa died each year from diarrheal diseases. Only thirty-six percent of the population in the sub-Saharan region have access to proper means of sanitation. More than 2,000 children's lives are lost every day. In South Asia, 683,000 children under five years old died each year from diarrheal disease from 2000 to 2003. During the same period, in developed countries, 700 children under five years old died from diarrheal disease. Improved water supply reduces diarrhea morbidity by 25% and improvements in drinking water through proper storage in the home and chlorination reduces diarrhea episodes by 39%.
Well contamination with arsenic and fluoride
Some efforts at increasing the availability of safe drinking water have been disastrous. When the 1980s were declared the "International Decade of Water" by the United Nations, the assumption was made that groundwater is inherently safer than water from rivers, ponds, and canals. While instances of cholera, typhoid and diarrhea were reduced, other problems emerged due to polluted groundwater.
Sixty million people are estimated to have been poisoned by well water contaminated by excessive fluoride, which dissolved from granite rocks. The effects are particularly evident in the bone deformations of children. Similar or larger problems are anticipated in other countries including China, Uzbekistan, and Ethiopia. Although helpful for dental health in low dosage, fluoride in large amounts interferes with bone formation.
Half of Bangladesh's 12 million tube wells contain unacceptable levels of arsenic due to the wells not dug deep enough (past 100 metres). The Bangladeshi government had spent less than US$7 million of the 34 million allocated for solving the problem by the World Bank in 1998. Natural arsenic poisoning is a global threat with 140 million people affected in 70 countries globally. These examples illustrate the need to examine each location on a case by case basis and not assume what works in one area will work in another.
Parameters for drinking water quality typically fall within three categories:
Physical and chemical parameters include heavy metals, trace organic compounds, total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity.
Chemical parameters tend to pose more of a chronic health risk through buildup of heavy metals although some components like nitrates/nitrites and arsenic can have a more immediate impact. Physical parameters affect the aesthetics and taste of the drinking water and may complicate the removal of microbial pathogens.
Originally, fecal contamination was determined with the presence of coliform bacteria, a convenient marker for a class of harmful fecal pathogens. The presence of fecal coliforms (like E. Coli) serves as an indication of contamination by sewage. Additional contaminants include protozoan oocysts such as Cryptosporidium sp., Giardia lamblia, Legionella, and viruses (enteric). Microbial pathogenic parameters are typically of greatest concern because of their immediate health risk.
Throughout most of the world, the most common contamination of raw water sources is from human sewage in particular human faecal pathogens and parasites. In 2006, waterborne diseases were estimated to cause 1.8 million deaths while about 1.1 billion people lacked proper drinking water. In parts of the world, the only sources of water are from small streams that are often directly contaminated by sewage.
There is increasing concern over the health effects of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) released into the natural environment. One potential indirect exposure route is through the consumption of contaminated drinking waters. To address these concerns, the U.K. Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) has published a "Review of the risks posed to drinking water by man-made nanoparticles" (DWI 70/2/246). The study, which was funded by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), was undertaken by the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) in collaboration with a multi-disciplinary team of experts including scientists from the Institute of Occupational Medicine/SAFENANO. The study explored the potential for ENPs to contaminate drinking water supplies and to establish the significance of the drinking water exposure route compared to other routes of exposure.
Improved water sources
Access to safe drinking water is indicated by safe water sources. These improved drinking water sources include household connection, public standpipe, borehole condition, protected dug well, protected spring, and rain water collection. Sources that do not encourage improved drinking water to the same extent as previously mentioned include: unprotected wells, unprotected springs, rivers or ponds, vender-provided water, bottled water (consequential of limitations in quantity, not quality of water), and tanker truck water. Access to sanitary water comes hand in hand with access to improved sanitation facilities for excreta, such as connection to public sewer, connection to septic system, or a pit latrine with a slab or water seal.
Most water requires some treatment before use; even water from deep wells or springs. The extent of treatment depends on the source of the water. Appropriate technology options in water treatment include both community-scale and household-scale point-of-use (POU) designs. Only a few a large urban areas such as Christchurch, New Zealand have access to sufficiently pure water of sufficient volume that no treatment of the raw water is required.
In emergency situations when conventional treatment systems have been compromised, waterborne pathogens may be killed or inactivated by boiling but this requires abundant sources of fuel, and can be very onerous on consumers, especially where it is difficult to store boiled water in sterile conditions. Other techniques, such as filtration, chemical disinfection, and exposure to ultraviolet radiation (including solar UV) have been demonstrated in an array of randomized control trials to significantly reduce levels of water-borne disease among users in low-income countries, but these suffer from the same problems as boiling methods.
Another type of water treatment is called desalination and is used mainly in dry areas with access to large bodies of saltwater.
Point of use methods
The ability of point of use (POU) options to reduce disease is a function of both their ability to remove microbial pathogens if properly applied and such social factors as ease of use and cultural appropriateness. Technologies may generate more (or less) health benefit than their lab-based microbial removal performance would suggest.
The current priority of the proponents of POU treatment is to reach large numbers of low-income households on a sustainable basis. Few POU measures have reached significant scale thus far, but efforts to promote and commercially distribute these products to the world's poor have only been under way for a few years.
Solar water disinfection is a low-cost method of purifying water that can often be implemented with locally available materials. Unlike methods that rely on firewood, it has low impact on the environment.
Guidelines for the assessment and improvement of service activities relating to drinking water have been published in the form of International standards for drinking water such as ISO 24510.
The EU sets legislation on water quality. Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy, known as the water framework directive, is the primary piece of legislation governing water. This drinking water directive relates specifically to water intended for human consumption.
Each member state is responsible for establishing the required policing measures to ensure that the legislation is implemented. For example, in the UK the Water Quality Regulations prescribe maximum values for substances that affect wholesomeness and the Drinking Water Inspectorate polices the water companies.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for public water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). As of 2019 EPA has issued 88 standards for microorganisms, chemicals and radionuclides. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water as a food product under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). Bottled water is not necessarily more pure, or more tested, than public tap water. Peter W. Preuss, former head of EPA's division analyzing environmental risks, has been "particularly concerned" about current drinking water standards, and suggested in 2009 that regulations against certain chemicals should be tightened.
In 2010 the EPA showed that 54 active pharmaceutical ingredients and ten metabolites had been found in treated drinking water. An earlier study from 2005 by the EPA and the Geographical Survey states that 40% of water was contaminated with nonprescription pharmaceuticals, and it has been reported that 8 of the 12 most commonly occurring chemicals in drinking water are estrogenic hormones. Of the pharmaceutical components found in drinking water, the EPA only regulates lindane. In 2009, the EPA did announce another 13 chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics that could potentially be regulated.
A list of normative documents that regulate the quality of drinking water in Russia:
- Sanitary norms and rules SanPin 22.214.171.1244-01 "Drinking Water. Hygienic requirements for water quality of centralized drinking water supply. Quality Control. "
- Sanitary norms and rules SanPin 126.96.36.1996-02 "Drinking Water. Hygienic requirements for water quality, packaged in a container. Quality Control. "
The qualitative and quantitative aspects of drinking water requirements of domesticated animals are studied and described within the context of animal husbandry. However, relatively few studies have been focused on the drinking behavior of wild animals. A recent study has shown that feral pigeons do not discriminate drinking water according to its content of metabolic wastes, such as uric acid or urea (mimicking faeces-pollution by birds or urine-pollution by mammals respectively).
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- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Healthy Water – Drinking Water One-stop resource for drinking water
- US Environmental Protection Agency – National drinking water program – General info, regulations & technical publications
- WHO – Water Sanitation and Health: drinking water quality
- International Water Association
- UNICEF State of the World's Children 2009 Full Report with Statistics