Drinking standard water is better than ever

It appears that things were not always better in the past, despite what our parents and grandparents like to tell us. A report published this week by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI), shows the best results achieved so far for drinking water quality in England and Wales. This reflects the success of the major regulatory driven investment programmes which began in 1990, and which greatly improved water treatment and distribution systems.

The Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI), which defines itself as the “guardian of drinking water quality”, is a team of professionals whose main job is to check that the 26 water companies in England and Wales supply water that is safe to drink and meets the standards set in the Water Quality Regulations.

The results in this year’s Inspectorate’s Annual Report are impressive: this is the ninth year-on-year improvement in water quality. The new report notes that 99.86% of the 2.8 million drinking water samples taken in 2001 met stringent quality standards. The number of samples failing to meet the standards dropped to one twelfth of the 1992 figures – from 50,000 to 4,054.

There have been reductions in the number of breaches of the total coliform and faecal coliform standards at treatment works and service reservoirs and a significant improvement in compliance for iron, trihalomethanes and lead in water supply zones. Many of the breaches in 2001 were for nitrite, with the number of samples containing nitrite above the standard remaining similar to the previous year. The presence of nitrite above the standard is usually associated with the use of chloramines as a disinfectant.

According to Chief Inspector for DWI, Michael Rouse, national and international regulations have played an important part in the constant improvement in water quality. For example, he says, “since the Cryptosporidium Regulations were implemented from the year 2000 onwards, there have been no reported confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis related to mains drinking water in any of the water supply areas monitored under the regulations.”

Regarding the 2004 European Union directive for drinking water quality, Rouse commented: “New regulations that come into force at the beginning of 2004 will bring even more stringent standards for drinking water supplies. Programmes of work have been underway since 2000 to meet these tighter standards, ahead of the regulations coming into force.”

The Government is not only working on improving water purification but, according to Environment Minister Michael Meacher, “This complements our strategies to improve the sources of drinking water, by reducing pollution from farming and sewage treatment works, which will, in turn, help to reduce the costs of purifying water for drinking.” The big challenge, according to Rouse, “is how the water industry can encourage people to drink the low cost, excellent tap water provided in England and Wales.”

Story by Amelie Knapp

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