Importance of Germany’s Drinking Water Ordinance

The Drinking Water Ordinance provides the legal basis for ensuring very high drinking water quality. It governs the

  • nature of drinking water
  • treatment of the water
  • duties of water providers
  • monitoring of drinking water.

The Drinking Water Ordinance is the implementation in national law of the EU directive on the qual-ity of water for human consumption (directive 98/83/EC). The Drinking Water Ordinance is thus a set of rules that are basically valid throughout Europe but have not yet been consistently applied in all countries. In many countries, e.g. Germany1, Austria2, France3 and Luxembourg4, there are similar national ordinances governing the quality of drinking water. The drinking water is not allowed to contain pathogens or substances in concentrations that are damaging to health (e.g. radioactive substances or metals). In addition it is required to be “pure and wholesome”. These requirements are not always fulfilled. For example, in July 2018 the EU issued a written warning to Ireland be-cause the country had not fulfilled its European Drinking Water Directive obligations and had allowed the content of trihalomethane (THM) to exceed the parametric value.5

The European directive obliges the member states to submit a drinking water report every three years. In Germany the duty of reporting applies to 2,490 water supplies providing about 4.4 billion cubic metres of drinking water to around 90 % of the population. The results of measurements made in 2014 – 2016 showed that the strict specifications of the Drinking Water Directive were met in 99 % of the water supplies. When limits are exceeded in individual cases this does not mean that a health risk exists immediately: it always depends on the amount by which the limit is exceeded and the length of time for which this happens.6

New Drinking Water Ordinance since January 2018

A new Drinking Water Ordinance came into force in Germany on 9 January 2018. Its aim is to enhance drinking water quality in accordance with European specifications. Some of the new rulings are stricter than the European specifications. This includes the prohibition of objects and processes in drinking water systems if they are not associated with drinking water provision, such as broadband cables in water pipes. In addition, microbiological safety is increased by more frequent testing for enterococci, especially in small installations (such as springs supplying restaurants). Furthermore, testing bodies have to report abnormal Legionella findings directly to the health authority so that appropriate action can be taken.

Health authorities are legally obliged to carry out regular monitoring of equipment for obtaining and providing water. In Germany, the federal states and their administrations are responsible for drinking water quality.

Focus on consumer protection

In the case of Germany’s Drinking Water Ordinance, consumer protection is at the forefront. The Ordinance not only regulates municipal water supplies and drinking water quality in medical establishments and public buildings but also applies to private landlords. From a particular size, hot water systems must be registered with the health authority and must be regularly tested because the health of the tenants should never be endangered by potential impurities in the water. This means the Drinking Water Ordinance is the legal basis for the liability of the operator in the case of damage to health.;;;