REYKJAVIK — Iceland is a lonely island nation, legally part of Europe though geographically situated in the empty waters of the North Atlantic. It is roughly the size of Kentucky and nearly two-thirds of the entire population lives in Reykjavik, the nation’s capital. Iceland is an island of opposites; it is a land of ice and fire comprised mainly of volcanoes and glaciers. Its incessant dark winters and midnight bright summers make it a wonder and an oddity. Among the strangeness of the nation is one of the world’s purest supplies of a very precious commodity: water.
The water quality in Iceland is above average; in fact, it is above exceptional. A staggering 97 percent of the population is satisfied with the water quality in Iceland, according to a recent OECD study. The Icelandic are so proud of their water that non-natives, travelers and tourists alike are frequently recommended to drink straight from the streams. If the water is clear and cold it is safe to drink.
The hot water is different. Iceland has naturally occurring hot water springs due to the geothermal activity below ground. This allows for geothermal power plants and creates natural baths that due to “high levels of silicates and other minerals have an especially rejuvenating effect on the skin.”
Naturally rich in sulfur, the hot water smells a lot like rotten eggs or a freshly struck match. This water, although great for the skin, is not safe to drink. The tap water in Icelandic faucets provides perfectly safe drinking water although it may smell of sulfur if some hot water in is still in the pipes from previous use.
There’s testing every year. According to Acqua Nordica Ltd, samples are taken from Reykjavik to test for water quality in Iceland annually. One notable test is the level of hardness in the water, which refers to its concentrations of calcium and magnesium.
In this sample, the water is measured in units of German hardness (degrees dH). Water that is exceptionally hard will have a number around 30 degrees dH and water that is especially soft will have a number of zero to four degrees dH. Icelandic water is less than two degrees dH meaning that it is especially soft. There are even some areas of Reykjavik that number in 0.2 to 0.60 degrees dH which is extremely soft.
Freshwater rivers and lakes cover about six percent of the total land area of Iceland, creating an abundance of fresh drinking water and offering major potential for hydropower plants to be built along with the natural geothermal power. Although rivers are abundant, glacial runoff is still the main source of cold water in Iceland. According to Gunnar Olafsson of the Ministry of Welfare in Iceland, “the water is as clean as it can be. The population has…access to 100 percent pure water.”
Other countries aren’t so lucky. There are many places in the world that do not have the kind of clean drinking water to which Iceland has the natural privilege. Shipping water from countries with plentiful clean water to places without can be costly and ineffective.
One of the Borgen Project’s favorite strategies of providing clean water to a community while also improving living conditions and aiding to end global poverty is to install a well. This well can provide clean water for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing to an entire community.
– Karyn Adams