wasteland drinking water water quality legislation


Is Proper Water fit for human consumption?


Guidelines, distribution and monopolies.
Constatations, contradictions and questions.

Before we can call water fit for human consumption, it has to be checked against a series of set standards. With great fervour and a sense of responsibility for public health we looked into the details. No bacteria, microbes, hormones or heavy metal were our set goal. But things turned out to be a bit more complicated than that. After consulting legislation, we ended up with along list of guidelines and decrees, not always in accordance with each other.

 see article Guidelines, legislation and a little bit of chemistry

Who was right? Europe? The US? The global world order? The guidelines published by the European Union did not agree with those of the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or those of the World Health Organisation (WHO), let alone those of dissident researchers like Professor Orszagh (www.eautarcie.org), who defends norms he calls closer to “bio-compatible” than to industrial convenience. And this without mentioning the norms large companies use for water purification in a Third World context. (At Aidex, the Global Humanitarian and Development Aid Event, we were told “It’s all about trust, and people just happen to trust installations labelled with a Swiss cross”).

What to do?

There was also the matter of water distribution. On 15 June 2012, at the start of EauPropre I ProperWater, we were entitled to a letter from Vivaqua, the public trust for production and distribution of drinking water and for the sanitisation of waste water, hand delivered by one of its employees . The letter stated that Vivaqua “welcomes the initiative at the heart of EauPropre I ProperWater, but rai­ses concerns about possible sanitary issues”. In short meaning we do not have the right to distribute “ProperWater” as “drinking water”, even if it was tested and certified by the Brussels inter-communal (i.e. the official) laboratory.

As a matter of fact, a regulation by the Brussels Capital Region (Ordonnance 20 Oct 2006, art. 17) gives Vivaqua a monopoly on the production and distribution of drinking water in Brussels. When it comes to large infrastructure works involving public health a European Decree (“networks which are characterised by a natural monopoly” Directive2002/21/EC) provides for the appointment of a sole monopoly holder. A logic that absolutely sounds reasonable. But does it make sense that the European Union prohibits people by law from taking responsibility for their own drinking water? Have people not been drinking self-filtered and sane water in the outback of vast territories of Canada and Australia since time immemorial? Why give responsibility for our drinking water uniquely on governments and (semi-)public companies ? Does this really outlaw people like professor Orszagh with a track record of 20 years of scientific research on drinking water ?



Armed with these contradictions and questions, we were more triggered than ever to find out the meaning and non-sense behind different quality standards, mono­polies and production, distribution and outsourcing water manage­ment to expensive experts.

In addition to our team of field experts, we also involved the Brussels inter-communal laboratory for chemistry and bacteriology, who became a partner of EauPropre I ProperWater. The followed up the water quality of the ProperWaterPavilion from June 2011 onwards. This involved sampling the water at regular intervals and bringing the samples to the laboratory for bacteriological and chemical analysis. After an incubation period of two days, we would have a first indication of the most crucial bacteriological outcomes. For instance the presence of 1 Coliform would be enough to be disqualified as drinking water.

From 2013 we could also do our own tests. To avoid needless expensive testing for Brulabo, we tested the water every other day with a DIY bacteriological test-kit (Readycult® Coliforms 50) to investigate the presence of Coliforms and E.Coli.

We looked more closely into definitions of drinking water, spring water and mineral water in order to understand better what we were allowed to call our ProperWater. We settled for an option that would “inform” and “delegate responsibility” to the “user” by displaying the following disclaimer: “EauPropre I ProperWater purified rain water is being checked on a regular basis by Brulabo on its drinking qualities, but is consumed at one’s own responsibility”. A sign was put up next to water distribution tap displaying all analysis reports and results of our own tests.

After the second set-up of the ProperWaterPavilion in May-June 2013, and after 9 tests and 3 own tests, time had come to finalise the drinking water experiment. For about a week we had been able to guarantee drinking water quality beyond reasonable doubt, at least according to EPA standards (allowing for nitrite to be slightly higher than according to European norms) – see resluts on www. properwater.org. All those who toasted during that week agreed about the exceptional good taste of the water.

Conclusion: rainwater can be purified to drinking water quality with non-expensive, non-chemical and non-electric filters. Very good news in itself!

Then we have to conclude that the system of our ProperWaterPavilion is far from ideal to obtain this result. It has some insurmountable disadvantages:
- water occasionally stagnates for days in the pipes (irregular use so irregular flow though the pipes) giving free play to biofilms and proliferating bacteria, or at least making them hard to control.
- our foot-pump was not powerful enough , meaning stagnated water is evacuated only slowly before “cleaner” water runs through the pipes
- on top of that, the position of the ProperWaterPavilion’s funnel roof in the vicinity of a tree complicates the situation even more (branches and leaves increase the formation of biofilm and nitrite, the presence of bird excrement and hence proliferation of coliforms). Although Coliforms cannot pass through the filters (the pores are too small for bacteria), they start regrowing on the casing of the filters.


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