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Environment For Members

How good (or bad) is the quality of the water in Switzerland's lakes and rivers?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 24 Aug, 2022 Updated Wed 24 Aug 2022 12:11 CEST
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Swimming in Swiss lakes and rivers is safe. Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

Switzerland is dotted with many picturesque lakes, rivers, and streams, but a new government study reveals the condition of these waterways needs improvement.

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Swiss lakes and rivers have been in the news quite a bit lately: due to the lack of rainfall meaning their water levels had dropped to historic low points.

With most concerns focussed on the effects of drought, less attention had been given to the quality of water in lakes and rivers. However, a new study has brought this issue to the forefront.

In its first-ever national study into the state of Switzerland’s waterways, the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) has found that the quality of water in lakes and rivers in some areas has improved.

“Thanks to measures taken in recent decades, only a limited proportion of pollutants from the built environment today ends up in Swiss lakes and rivers », FOEN said in a statement on Tuesday.

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However, despite these improvements, “efforts are still needed to bring the entire system closer to a natural state, since lakes and rivers also play a vital role in the preservation of biodiversity.”

From this point of view, “the situation remains worrying”, FOEN added.

At the local level, the quality of water in many places does not meet the minimum requirements imposed by law, the study found. Traces of pesticides from agriculture and drugs in urban wastewater pollute many small and medium-sized waterways.

Also, phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations are still too high, reducing the amount of oxygen in lakes and streams, which is fatal for many fish and plants.

What are the main challenges to Swiss waterways right now?

Climate change will modify the availability of water, as the recent drought has shown. "To prevent serious consequences for the environment and the economy, the Federal Council decided to create a detection and early warning system for drought", FOEN said.

Another challenge is to ensure that lakes and rivers are “in as natural a state as possible. Such waters, which regenerate themselves, are more resilient to climate change and will continue to fulfill their functions as a reserve of drinking water, a diversified natural environment for flora and fauna and a relaxation area".

Since the water in Switzerland contains trace substances, is it safe to drink?

It is true that while most of tap water in Switzerland comes from underground reserves and natural springs, some originates from the lakes.

However, due to the strict regulations on drinking water treatment, the concentration of trace substances is so low that "it can be drunk from every tap without posing a health hazard".

This video (in German with English subtitles) explains why tap water in Switzerland is safe for consumption.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mpd80Ca5YrM

READ MORE: What you need to know about the drinking water in Switzerland
 

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What about swimming?

The weather is still warm, and you may want to cool off with a dip in a lake or river near you.

Nowadays, it is possible to swim "almost everywhere without risk”, according to FOEN.

In fact, in some Swiss rivers, like the Limmat in Zurich and the Aare in Bern, swimming is so popular that some people even use it instead of the public transportation system to swim or float to work.

READ MORE: Reader question: Do people really swim to work in Zurich?

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/08/24 12:11

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