For about ten days in early August 2022, the Lucerne neighbourhood of Langensand Matthof had no direct access to clean drinking water. The approximately 3,000 people affected by the pollution had to either boil the bacterially contaminated water to protect their health or obtain clean drinking water from one of the five standpipes that the Lucerne water provider ewl installed in the affected neighbourhood after a few days. The great media attention and a sometimes heated tone in the news coverage have shown how important a functioning drinking water supply, often taken for granted, is.

August 18th, 2022

At WfW we deal with the issue of water on a daily basis, whether in Zambia, in Mozambique or in Switzerland. Now that drinking water quality is once again flowing from the taps of all Lucerne households and offices we would like to point out a few aspects.

A functioning drinking water supply cannot be taken for granted

The most important thing to start with: from a global perspective, a functioning drinking water supply cannot be taken for granted. Worldwide, over 780 million people live without safe access to clean drinking water. These people have to travel long distances or wait for long periods of time to get drinking water. In addition, there are risks of water quality or quantity. Water may come from an unsafe source, be polluted, be in short supply or be expensive. Most of these 780 million people live in Southern Africa and Southern Asia. And this is by no means only because there is too little water in these regions. In Zambia, for example, one of the most water-rich countries in Africa, there would be enough natural resources to meet the demand for drinking water. Yet these are often not tapped. Access to water, however, is the basic prerequisite for a healthy life.

What was a temporary inconvenience for the approximately 3,000 people in Lucerne means daily reality for many people.

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Drinking water supply - a mulitgenerational challenge

The central water supply for households in Lucerne dates back to the first constructions in the 1870s. These were mainly used for fire-fighting and were highly problematic from a hygiene perspective. It was not until the turn of the century when the link between poor water quality and diseases such as cholera and typhus was found that the issues of health and hygiene drove the development of piped water supply. In the post-war period, basic sanitation with clean drinking water, including toilets, bathrooms and showers, also reached rural areas nationwide. Professional water supply in Switzerland is a multi-generational challenge and access to drinking water was not a matter of course until the post-war period.

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Construction of the Sonnenberg reservoir in 1874. ©ewl


The construction of the Sonnenberg reservoir in 1874 represented a key event on the way to a central water supply in Lucerne. However, a nationwide supply of clean water was only achieved in Switzerland in the post-war period.

Kontrollen funktionieren, Massnahmen werden getroffen

Today, Lucerne's drinking water network is around 350 kilometres long and is fed by spring, lake and groundwater. In order to ensure the highest level of water purity, water suppliers such as ewl in Lucerne are primarily engaged in the area of technological and sustainable further developments in water treatment. The case in Lucerne has shown that the most modern water treatment plants do not protect against possible water pollution. It has also shown how difficult it is to find out where exactly and how the polluted water could have entered the drinking water network. In mid-August 2022, it seems a likely scenario that the cause of the pollution will remain unresolved forever. After all, thanks to 500 water samples analysed daily, it was possible to narrow down the source of the pollution to 25 houses within ten days. Somewhere in this street, which temporarily has clean water again thanks to a provisional water connection, the pollution must have entered the water network. This illustrates the complexity of a professional water supply that has grown over decades and is constantly evolving. One thing can be said for sure: Tap water in Switzerland is a safe, well-controlled commodity.

Drinking water controls work and the necessary interventions are taken in case of problems.

What does the future hold?

So: all's well that ends well? In many places, the dry summer of 2022 makes it obvious that drinking water is a vulnerable resource. Global warming, longer periods of drought, rising sea levels, sealed soils, the growing population or environmental pollution by pesticides or microplastics: the list of challenges in the area of drinking water is long and demanding. In order to ensure that natural drinking water is also available for future generations, more care must be taken of water as a resource. To do this, we must reflect on our water consumption - and not just the obvious one. We all have to ask ourselves such and similar questions in the future: Where can I save drinking water if there is a local shortage? How much virtual water is in my clothes or in my food? Does this virtual water come from a water-scarce region? Where does the microplastic in my shower gel end up when it goes down the drain? Can we afford to continue sealing masses of soil through which water can no longer drain? How can we minimise global warming, which exacerbates access to water? How do we deal with conflicts of use between, for example, agricultural or industrial water use and long-term drinking water security? And how can we ensure fair access to water from a global perspective?

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1 kilogram cotton = 10,000 litres water; 1 kilogram beef = 15,400 litres water ; 1 litre bottled water = 12 litres water; 2 cups of coffee = 260 litres of water ; 1 computer = 20,000 litres of water

We continue!

WfW sees itself encouraged to continue intensively along the path it has chosen. We are committed to climate-friendly management and the protection of water as a resource, we participate courageously in the establishment, maintenance and development of fair and professionally managed water, sanitation and hygiene services, and we are involved as co-learners in the field of education for sustainable development, where we promote values and competencies related to water as a resource that enable us to help shape a sustainable development of society. So that future generations can also enjoy natural, finest and healthy drinking water.

Together we search for the voice of water.


202006 Wf W Glas Bach Wf W


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