Rhine river's water quality deteriorating

Pier to prevent erosion in the Rhine river
Pier to prevent erosion in the Rhine riverCreativeNatureDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

Over the past two decades it has become increasingly difficult to clean water from the Rhine enough to be suitable for drinking water. Despite agreements to make the water in the river cleaner, the quality has deteriorated, partly due to more and new unwanted substances therein. On Thursday the Ministers of the five countries the Rhine flows through will meet in Amsterdam to make new agreements regarding the river, NOS reports.

In the Netherlands, some 5 million people get their tap water from the Rhine. 

The Rhine Commission makes agreements on water management and water quality every 20 years. Two decades ago, it was agreed to improve water quality in the Rhine. And in many points, this has happened - some chemicals no longer occur. But new problems have taken their place, Gerards Stroomberg of RIWA, the association for river water companies, said to NOS. "What we see is that the substances we encounter are increasingly difficult to remove. And the quantities are also getting larger."

The RIWA investigated whether the water quality improvement agreed upon 20 years ago was achieved. "We really had the hope that we would see improvement," Stroomberg said. "We are surprised that it has deteriorated."

The bulk of the problems are caused by waste from the chemical industry and medicine residues. "Companies in the Ruhr area receive permits to discharge these substances into the Rhine. We must then remove those again," Stroomberg said. Medicine residues are peed out and end up in the river via sewage water. People also tend to flush unused pills down the toilet. Stroomberg believes the current regulations do not take sufficient account of the Rhine's function as drinking water source.

The drinking water companies hope that the Ministers will make better agreements for the next 20 years. It starts with the permits companies get to discharge into the Rhine, Stroomberg said. "With permits you must always take note that drinking water is made from Rhine water." The purification of sewage can also be improved. "It is much more efficient to purify where the pollution takes place," he said. "There is also the European agreement: the polluter pays."

Despite the deteriorating quality of the water in the Rhine, the drinking water that comes out of the tap is still safe, Stroomberg said. "We purify it until it is healthy and clean. But that costs us more and more effort."