Provisions ensure drinking water quality level
The revised Drinking Water Ordinance (Trinkwasserverordnung – TrinkwV) provides for the introduction of risk-based drinking water protection, introduces new parameters and sets lower limits for contaminants such as chromium, arsenic and lead. It requires the operators of water supply installations to disconnect or replace old lead pipes.
The revised Drinking Water Ordinance (German) became effective on 24 June 2023. It transposes relevant requirements of the 2020 EU Drinking Water Directive into German law. The Drinking Water Ordinance continues to guarantee the accustomed high level of drinking water quality while focusing especially on new challenges in the form of environmental factors affecting drinking water resources.
Quality report published for the 2017 to 2019 period
The EU Drinking Water Directive requires all member states to submit a report on the quality of water for human consumption every three years. The obligation to report covers water supply zones that supply more than 1,000 cubic metres (m³) drinking water per day or serve more than 5,000 persons. In Germany, 2,485 water supply zones are subject to this reporting obligation (as of 2019) and those annually distribute roughly 4.7 billion cubic metres drinking water to approximately 88 percent of the country’s population.
The drinking water in Germany’s water supply zones that are subject to the reporting obligation has an excellent quality. This was the conclusion of the sixth report spanning the years 2017 to 2019 in which the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) and the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) informed the consumers about the quality of "water intended for human consumption" (drinking water).
The results of drinking water monitoring show that in more than 99 percent of analyses, the stringent requirements of the Drinking Water Ordinance (TrinkwV) were complied with for nearly all microbiological and chemical quality parameters with no exceedances. For many parameters, it was as much as 99.9 to 100 percent.
What does it mean if there is an exceedance?
The Drinking Water Ordinance stipulates limits for chemical and microbiological parameters that usually reflect the precautionary principle. If exceedances do occur, this may not be taken to mean that there is necessarily a hazard to health. This would depend on the parameter and the level and duration of the exceedance. For instance, the presence of coliform bacteria in drinking water indicates a general deterioration of water quality and hence the need for further testing to identify the root cause and initiate preventive measures for public health protection. For example, exceedances of the parametric value for lead are indicators of lead pipes remaining in the domestic distribution system or fittings that are not in line with the generally recognised codes of practice.
What happens if there is an exceedance?
If and when exceedances occur, the identification and elimination of the root causes takes precedence over addressing the symptoms. Therefore, the local public health office examines if the exceedance is a health hazard that calls for immediate remedial measures or if it can be tolerated temporarily until measures to eliminate the root cause take effect
Contents of the Drinking Water Ordinance
Drinking water is the number one food item. In addition to drinking and food preparation, it is used for domestic purposes such as washing, showering and doing the laundry. In Germany, drinking water must satisfy stringent quality requirements. The Drinking Water Ordinance (TrinkwV), which has transposed the 2020 EC Drinking Water Directive into national law, specifies these binding requirements. Its most basic provisions include that drinking water must not only be free from unsafe levels of substances and pathogens, but that it must also be 'pure and wholesome'.
Moreover, the Drinking Water Ordinance regulates the duties incumbent on the water suppliers and monitoring authorities; it specifies the microbiological, chemical and radiological parameters that must be tested for and the frequency with which drinking water must be monitored. In an effort to also ensure the water's hygienic safety, the Ordinance stipulates that limit values and water quality requirements be met in household taps.
According to European provisions, the EURATOM Directive 2013/51, drinking water in Germany must be tested and monitored for any levels of radioactive substances. By way of the Third Amendment of the Drinking Water Ordinance, requirements for the measuring and monitoring of drinking water quality in respect of artificial and natural radioactive substances were stipulated in agreement with the Federal Environment Ministry. It stipulates, for instance, parametric values for radon, tritium, and the indicative dose including radon daughters.
While radiation exposure from radioactive substances in drinking water can in Germany on average be considered negligible, drinking water may locally have higher levels of natural radioactive substances on account of geological characteristics. The provisions enhance the safety of drinking water in respect of these substances, since public health protection is paramount and the mandatory precautionary principle also applies to radiation protection.
Current version and citation of the Drinking Water Ordinance
The "Ordinance on the Quality of Drinking Water Intended for Human Consumption (Verordnung über die Qualität von Wasser für den menschlichen Gebrauch - Trinkwasserverordnung - TrinkwV) of 20 June 2023" revises the Drinking Water Ordinance of the same title of 21 May 2001 (essentially amended by six amending ordinances adopted in 2011, 2012, 2015, 2018, 2019, and 2021), transposing provisions of the 2020 EU Drinking Water Directive into national law. When citing the current version of the Ordinance on the Quality of Water Intended for Human Consumption (Verordnung über die Qualität von Wasser für den menschlichen Gebrauch), it can also be referred to using the official short title "Drinking Water Ordinance" (Trinkwasserverordnung) or its official German abbreviation "TrinkwV". For the purpose of referring to a specific version of the Drinking Water Ordinance, the long title is appropriate. For instance, the long title of the current version reads as follows:
"Verordnung über die Qualität von Wasser für den menschlichen Gebrauch (Trinkwasserverordnung - TrinkwV) (vom 20. Juni 2023 (BGBl. 2023 I Nr. 159, S. 2)" ("Ordinance on the Quality of Water intended for Human Consumption" (of 20 June 2023 (Federal Law Gazette 2023 I No. 159 p. 2)" or
"Trinkwasserverordnung (TrinkwV) vom 20. Juni 2023 (BGBl. 2023 I Nr. 159, S. 2)" ("Drinking Water Ordinance of 20 June 2023 (Federal Law Gazette 2023 / No. 159, p. 2")
Functional responsibility in Germany
In Germany, responsibility for the quality of drinking water lies with the Federal Ministry of Health. Technical input and contributory work comes from the Federal Environmental Agency. The Agency’s responsibility results from the Health Ministry having the operational oversight over the Agency’s Department "Drinking Water and Swimming Pool Water Hygiene".
Reports from the Federal Environmental Agency (Umweltbundesamt – UBA)
- Final report: Abschätzung der in Deutschland noch vorhandenen Bleileitungen (2023) (Estimate of lead pipework remaining in use in Germany)
- Bericht über die Qualität von Trinkwasser in kleinen und mittleren Wasserversorgungsgebieten Deutschland 2017-2019 (Anhang zum Bericht) (Report on drinking water quality in small and medium water supply zones in Germany (2017-2019 (Annex to the Report))
- 6. Bericht über die Qualität von Trinkwasser (2017-2019) (Sixth Report on Drinking Water Quality (2017-2019)
- 5. Bericht über die Qualität von Trinkwasser (2014-2016) (Fifth Report on Drinking Water Quality (2014-2016)
- Bericht über die Qualität von Trinkwasser in kleinen und mittleren Wasserversorgungsgebieten Deutschland 2014 -2016 (Anhang zum Bericht) (Report on drinking water quality in small and medium water supply zones in Germany (2014-2016 (Annex to the Report))
- 4. Bericht über die Qualität von Trinkwasser (2011-2013) (Fourth Report on Drinking Water Quality (2011-2013)
- Bericht über die Qualität von Trinkwasser in kleinen und mittleren Wasserversorgungsgebieten Deutschland im Berichtsjahr 2013 (Anhang zum Bericht) (Report on drinking water quality in small and medium water supply zones in Germany in the reporting year 2013 (Annex to the Report))
- 3. Bericht über die Qualität von Trinkwasser (2008-2010) (Third Report on Drinking Water Quality (2008-2010)
- 2. Bericht über die Qualität von Trinkwasser (2005-2007) (Second Report on Drinking Water Quality (2005-2007)
- 1. Bericht über die Qualität von Trinkwasser (2002-2004) (First Report on Drinking Water Quality (2002-2004)
Consumers who want to get information in addition to that included in the report can obtain details on the drinking water quality in their supply zone from their local public health office or water supplier.
Comment from the Federal Environmental Agency on the coronavirus
Thanks to the multi-barrier approach and compliance with the generally recognised codes of practice, drinking water abstraction and treatment affords extensive protection even from unknown organisms and chemical substances at all times. Specifically, soil passage and particle filtration should be emphasised as effective steps in this approach. The morphology and chemical structure of SARS-CoV-2 is very similar to that of other coronaviruses for which studies have demonstrated that water-borne transmission is not relevant. These enveloped viruses are less persistent in water than enteroviruses and can be more easily inactivated than noroviruses or adenoviruses.
Protection from radioactive substances in drinking water
Guidelines on compliance with the requirements of the Drinking Water Ordinance in the testing and evaluation of radioactive substances in drinking water on the website of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV)
Press release (17/12/2020)
Europaparlament verabschiedet Neufassung der Trinkwasserrichtlinie (European Parliament adopts recast Drinking Water Directive) (German)
Press release (06/11/2015)
Höherer Schutz vor radioaktiven Stoffen in Trinkwasser (Better protection from radioactive substances in drinking water) (German)
Drinking Water Ordinance and Legionella (German)
Drinking water quality (external link, German)