Resources: the dynamic water cycle stores 60 billion cubic meters of water.
Usage: water is used many times, river water up to 14 times.
Consumption: Overall consumption is quite sustainable since only 2 billion cubic meters of water is consumed.
Switzerland has abundant water resources. The average annual rainfall in Switzerland is around 60 billion cubic metres. A distinction is made between two types of use of water: Use and consumption. When water is used, it is returned to the cycle cleanly and without delay (e.g. electricity production). In the case of consumption, water is taken out of the cycle at short notice and later returned, possibly in another form (e.g. drinking water, cooling of nuclear power plants, irrigation). Switzerland consumes 3.7% (2 billion cubic metres) of its resources for drinking water, commerce, agriculture and industry. 550 billion cubic metres are used for electricity production alone. Switzerland therefore consumes little water, but uses a lot. In quantitative terms, our overall use of domestic water resources is very sustainable.
In the future, regional, seasonal water shortages may nevertheless occur. Due to climate change and disturbed water cycles, Switzerland's glaciers will melt to less than 10% of their mass by 2100, and some will disappear completely. There will also be more extreme periods of drought. This will primarily affect regions that are dependent on groundwater.
Water supply conditions
Water suppliers are local foodstuff companies. They depend on local raw water resources and on the customers of the region. They can help shape local conditions only with the aim of providing drinking water as close to nature as possible. The most important tasks are the creation of favourable conditions for water protection and spatial planning, increasing the professional competence of the employees and creating favourable fees by optimising construction, operation and the organisational form.
Water is a sensitive and local resource. If local shortages or pollution occur, they cannot simply be replaced. Preventive measures to maintain quantity and quality at a high level in the long term are therefore all the more important.
Tap water is much more environmentally friendly than bottled water. Compared to Swiss bottled water, it performs up to 500 times better, compared to imported bottled water from the EU up to 700 times better. Every litre of tap water instead of bottled water saves the environmental impact of a 2-3 km long car journey.
The reason for this is a systematic one: tap water doesn't have to be bottled, doesn't require transport and produces no waste. In addition, water suppliers aim for maximum natural treatment. This means that the infrastructure and the use of resources aim to consume as little energy as possible. For example, almost 60% of Swiss drinking water can be supplied to consumers without or with single-stage treatment.
However, this also means that this efficiency can only be guaranteed if water protection is good. Accordingly, clean water bodies are a guarantee for the environmental friendliness and quality of tap water.
One-way-Principle instead of Dispose-and-Recycle
Recycling systems save up to 50% of the energy consumption compared to waste incineration. They are often even classified as more environmentally friendly than reusable containers, which have a reuse rate of 25-50 times. Such comparisons do not apply to bottles and carafes that are produced and transported once and then used for years. This one-way principle is much more environmentally friendly than any disposable recycling, as it eliminates recurring costs, transport and waste. In addition, the use of conventional disposable bottles is only somewhat energy-efficient if the recycling rate is very high. In Switzerland, the recycling rate for PET bottles is around 80%. This is a top international figure, but also means that 300 million bottles are not recycled every year.
Nevertheless, regions with comparatively good tap water infrastructure around the world drink a lot of bottled water. However, many people in regions with inadequate tap water supply also tend to drink more and more branded water, partly as a result of necessity and partly because of increasing prosperity. The problem is that in regions with inadequate tap water supplies, waste incineration or recycling plants are often also inadequate to meet demand. If these trends are confirmed, a massive increase in the burden of plastic waste can be expected, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.
- The production of a plastic bottle requires 3 decilitres of crude oil and 4 litres of water.
- Plastic bottles are among the most abundant types of plastic in the world's oceans.
- Transports by ship and lorry emit large quantities of CO2 and other environmentally harmful substances.
Switzerland's water providers are subject to the principle of self-sufficiency. This means that they must perform their tasks financially independently. The costs are levied on a polluter-pays basis in the form of fees and contributions. Fees are subject to principles that regulate economic efficiency. The income may not exceed the expenditure in the corresponding administrative branch (cost recovery principle). The amount of the fees must be proportionate to the value of the service (principle of equivalence). All people have the same rights to water supply (principle of equality of rights).
- Swiss water utilities employ 3,100 full-time staff
- The operating costs for 1'000 liters of water are CHF 2
- The average water price is also CHF 2 per 1,000 litres.
Is it worth saving water?
The conscious use of valuable resources is becoming increasingly important. Drinking water should also be consumed more consciously. As long as sufficient physical water resources are available, efficiency depends on how this is implemented.
When using water directly, it is only worth saving hot water, as it consumes 150 times more energy than cold water. Cold water has such a good environmental balance that reduced use is hardly ecologically worthwhile. Financially, saving water could even have a negative effect. The price per cubic metre of water depends on the operating costs of the water suppliers. More than 80% of these are fixed costs, which must be borne in any case. Lower consumption could force water suppliers to spread their costs over fewer cubic metres of water: the price would rise accordingly. In addition, the water pipes could become dirty or clogged if they are not used as often.
Nevertheless, you shouldn't be wasteful with water. Wastewater purification is more efficient the more concentrated the dirty water is. Excessive water consumption dilutes the dirty water too much and the effort for the filter systems becomes greater.
Saving water is only worthwhile to a limited extent in Switzerland. Anyone who wants to improve the environmental balance can do so by reducing the use of hot water. Saving cold water has more disadvantages than advantages.
The principles under which the tap water supply functions guarantee high drinking water quality at low water prices. This is important because safe access to water does not simply mean existing, functioning infrastructure; access is only guaranteed when everyone can afford it. Through its principles, the supply of tap water is socially inclusive and creates the basis for equal opportunities.
An example of the price efficiency of water supply: The average water price is currently 2 per cubic metre (1,000 litres). In Switzerland, a person consumes an average of 140 litres of water per day in the household, i.e. just over 50,000 litres per year. This service costs 102.00 - based on an annual wage of 40'000.00 - which is less than 0.3% of the earned income per year.
By way of comparison, in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, this proportion can be as high as 40%, mainly due to private water supply.
Safe access to drinking water must be affordable for all. Otherwise, social inequalities will worsen. A systematic supply of tap water is generally the most price efficient and therefore socially inclusive.