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Environment office wary of future groundwater contamination

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Tap water in Switzerland, and the groundwater from which much of it is drawn, remains at a high and clean level – but the federal environment office is worried about contamination.

According to Swiss public broadcaster SRF, who reported on a recent study by the Federal Office for the Environmentexternal link (FOEN), the tap water in 80% of Swiss households is drawn from groundwater: i.e. undersoil springs and wells.

And though much of it is clean, FOEN is nevertheless worried that the sites of these groundwater wells are not well enough protected.

In areas where land is heavily developed with infrastructure or housing, for example, the risk of waste water contamination (from buildings) or petrol seepage (from roads) is not to be discounted, the office wrote.

Adrian Auckenthaler, a hydrology expert and canton Basel Land’s groundwater boss, says that over-developed areas and zones where groundwater is drawn are coming more and more into contact.

“It’s a new situation,” he told SRF. “In Switzerland we have the impression that we are like the moated castle of Europe [i.e. that we have limitless clean supplies]. But we also have to be clear about the fact that we live in a densely populated country.”

To prevent future problems, he says that measures need to be taken in areas of groundwater – for example the creation of more reservoirs, or more prior treatment of drinking water.

But such measures cost money, SRF writes, and the question is raised of how much the country is willing to pay to ensure clean drinking water in decades to come. Parliament in Bern will discuss the question in the next months.

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