Is tap water in Spain safe to drink?

by Lorraine Williamson
tap water

MADRID – During a holiday in Spain, many people mistakenly believe that they cannot drink the water from the tap. They buy bottled water and use it for drinking and cooking. However, all those plastic bottles have a heavy impact on the environment. 

And that is undesirable at a time when we have to make more and more efforts to protect the environment and reduce the plastic soup in our oceans. Moreover, the tap water in Spain is just drinkable. After purification, it goes through various quality checks. 

Related post: Catalonia wants help from tourists with water conservation 

According to the latest data on this from 2020 from the Ministry of Health, 98.5% of tap water in Spain is suitable for consumption. It meets all quality standards set by the European Union. Mind you, we are talking about tap water here. Water that flows from the taps in the built-up areas of villages and towns. 

In contrast to this tap water, in many – often rural – areas homes or holiday homes are not connected to tap water. The water from taps there comes from wells or other sources. Depending on the area, the depth of the well or the quality of the source, etc., that water is often not immediately drinkable. In this article, we are only talking about tap water in Spain. 

Lack of confidence in tap water 

Tap water did not always meet EU standards and quality requirements. Because of this and because of the non-potable water in rural areas, there is so much mistrust and many Spaniards have switched to bottled water over the years. Myths have also arisen about tap water and the possible health problems associated with drinking it. Then there is the ‘taste’ argument. Tap water tastes in Spain – depending on where you are – often (slightly) like chlorine. Then bottled water is tastier. 

Tap Water in Spain 

Before Spain joined the EU in 1986, investment in public water infrastructure was limited. Some cities, such as Madrid, had good quality tap water. Others did not have extensive control and purification systems. For this reason, many people in coastal areas such as Barcelona, ​​Valencia, Alicante, Malaga, or Cadiz still wrongly advise against tap water. 

Related post: Water pollution in Spain increased by 50 percent in 4 years 

Another reason is that tourists who visited Spain in the 60s, 70s, and 80s did not drink tap water because of its bad taste. As the purchasing power of the Spaniards increased, they also turned to bottled water, following what they saw from tourists. 

Better wastewater filtration thanks to EU funds 

After joining the EU, Spain received €21 billion in European funds between 1986 and 2008 to build or improve hydraulic infrastructure where it was already in place. As a result, Spain’s wastewater filtration and management systems are among the most advanced in the world. 

Check the quality of the tap water in your region 

All water companies in the EU are obliged to provide public information on water quality. Each local supplier must report certified lab testing every 6 months. This results in more than 40 million reports per year. To find out where the water in your municipality comes from, when the last test was and the results of the tests performed, you can consult the National Drinking Water Information System of the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality (SINAC). Via this link, you can read more about the quality of tap water in Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Malaga, Valencia, Alicante, Canary Islands, Mallorca and Menorca, and Ibiza. 

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See also: Spain reprimanded by EU for lack of water purification 

Why does water taste so much like chlorine? For clean and safe drinking water, usually free chlorine or in some cases chloramine is added to the water. Chlorine does not affect your health, but it can give the water a bad taste and smell. The amount of chlorine added varies significantly by region and time of year, as well as the water source, temperature, and other factors. As a result, the taste also varies greatly throughout the year. Chlorine is also added to most bottled water for safety reasons. You can check it on the labels 

Best tap water in Spain 

According to the latest report from the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) in May 2014, Burgos, San Sebastián and Las Palmas top the list of cities with the best tap water. OCU examined the water quality in 62 Spanish municipalities. In addition to 50 provincial capitals, there are samples from 12 medium and small towns, where the distribution and handling systems are usually precarious. 

  • Burgos: few minerals, no lime (soft), and no contaminants of any kind. In addition, the price is below the national average. 
  • San Sebastián: has water with very light mineraliation. A small presence of copper was found from probably the pipes in the building. In terms of hygiene and contamination parameters, it was excellent. In addition, the water is cheap. 
  • Las Palmas: It may seem surprising that the water of a city on an island, where water resources are limited, made the list of the three best. The water can come from a mixture of origins (desalination plant, own wells, aquifers). 

Worst tap water quality in Spain 

While the quality of the water that comes out of the taps in the vast majority of cities in Spain is very acceptable, there are losers too. These are municipalities where the water contains a high content of harmful substances that can affect the health of consumers. Still, those shortcomings are not so serious that the water can be considered undrinkable. 

  • Ciudad Real: Excessive levels of trihalomethanes were detected here. Trihalomethanes are substances created by the combination of chlorine with the organic matter of water during the purification of water. The problem is not new in this city, while there is no justification, as trihalomethanes are easily avoided by installing adequate filters in sewage treatment plants or filtration of organic matter. 
  • Palma de Mallorca: The water was very hard and highly mineralized, resulting in a bad taste. Worryingly, it contained too many nitrates. Slightly above the level recommended by the WHO (25 mg/l). In the stomach, nitrates turn into nitrites, which can cause serious health problems in children (metaglobinemia). 
  • Barcelona, ​​​​Huelva, and Logroño: the high presence of aerobic microorganisms. Those reveal poor water disinfection. However, contamination can come from the treatment plant or any point along the route, including the pipes in the house. 

In turn, we have collected more than 100 reports on the quality of Spanish tap water in each region. Find your city/region here. 

Why does the water in Spain taste like chlorine? 

Chlorine is usually added to the water for clean and safe drinking water. Chlorine kills bacteria and makes the water cleaner. It will not affect your health, but it can give the water a bad taste and smell. The amount of chlorine added varies considerably by region and time of year. It also varies by water source, temperature, and other factors. That is why the taste of tap water can also vary greatly throughout the year. What many people do not know is that chlorine is often added to bottled water. 

Who regulates drinking water in Spain? 

In Spain, drinking water, both from the public supply and from other sources, must comply with the standards laid down in the EU Directive (98/83/CE) on drinking water. The government of each EU Member State must translate the requirements of the Directive into local law which must at least meet the requirements of EU law. 

How do I test my water quality? 

Even though your water comes from the local water company, there is a risk that the water on the way to your tap will be contaminated. This can be due to old pipes or leaks. Therefore, if you suspect a problem, you can test the water coming out of your faucet. You can request a report for this from your water company. You can also consult a list of accredited laboratories that can test your water. Consult the list of laboratories on the Ministry’s website. 

Price differences between regions are large 

At the end of 2020, OCU published a study about the price differences of tap water between regions in Spain. The consumer organization compared the annual statement in 50 provincial capitals plus the cities of Vigo, Gijón, Ceuta, and Melilla. With an annual consumption of 175 m3 in a household of 4 people, the final amount varies from €560 in Seville to €157 in Palencia. 

In cities such as Segovia, Cádiz, Palma, Alicante, Barcelona, and Murcia, the water is relatively expensive with an annual bill of €411 to €552. Here you pay for a cubic metre of water between €2.30 and €3.20. This means that the water here is more than twice as expensive as in, for example, San Sebastián, Ávila, Lugo, and León. There, a cubic metre of water costs about €1.10. In Guadalajara, Ourense, and Palencia you pay less than one euro for the same amount. OCU gives an explanation for the price differences that where the costs for purification and supply of tap water are high, the consumer also pays more. You also pay for a water metre in some places and not in others. 

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