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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

Everything you need to know about Austria’s world-class drinking water

Have you ever wondered where Austria's tap water comes from and why it tastes so good? Here’s everything you never knew you needed to know about Austria’s world-class drinking water.

The shore of Lake Alm in Grünau im Almtal, Austria. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash
The shore of Lake Alm in Grünau im Almtal, Austria. Austria has some of the cleanest and most delicious drinking water in the world. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

Running from kitchen sinks, bathroom faucets and garden hoses across the country, Austria’s tap water often tastes better than your favourite bottled brand.

It’s so fresh, it may as well have come gushing, crystal clear, from a mountain spring.

Well, in Austria, chances are it has.

Austria is a water-rich country, with approximately 86 billion square meters of freshwater entering the supply each year, according to the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism (BMNT). In both purity and taste, the country’s drinking water is considered among the best in the world.

But why is it so delicious? How does it make the journey from the mountains into your glass? And is it true that Austrians really flush their toilets with pure, alpine spring water?

To the source

Trillions of litres of water enter Austria each year through rivers and streams — and in the form of precipitation.

Totalling the water used by households and businesses, crop irrigation and industrial needs, the country consumes about 250 billion litres annually, which is only around 3% of the available supply, reports the BMNT. Needless to say, there is plenty of water left over. 

Approximately one third of the country’s annual water supply ends up deep in the ground, filling Austria’s natural reservoirs. Some of this groundwater arrives in the country as rain or snowfall — Austria’s many mountains act like magnets for precipitation.

The mountains force the warm, humid air that flows over them to cool down and release its water, much like squeezing a sponge. 

Berglisee, Mathon, Austria - another example of Austria's pristine water. Photo by Sven D on Unsplash

Berglisee, Mathon, Austria – another example of Austria’s pristine water. Photo by Sven D on Unsplash

That rain or snow trickles down through the alpine soil and is filtered and cleaned along the way, as particles or bacteria get trapped, and as the soil adds minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

The water often bursts out through channels in the mountain rock as clear, mineral-enriched spring water. It’s the purity and added minerals that give the water its fresh, crisp flavour.

About half of Austria’s water supply is collected from alpine springs, while the other half is pumped up from natural aquifers, according to the Federal Environmental Agency.

Together, these groundwater sources make up nearly 100 percent of Austria’s local drinking water.

Where does Vienna’s drinking water come from?

Vienna represents a special case when it comes to drinking water: Almost all of the city’s water comes directly from springs, which originate in the Lower Austrian-Styrian Alps.

The water reaches the city without the use of pumps, and flows from the mountain range southwest of Vienna along the natural drop in altitude into the city’s reservoirs.

Only gravity is required to move the water, making the entire system quite friendly to the environment. Some hydropower is even generated during the journey. 

After its use in homes and businesses throughout the city, the water goes to a sewage treatment plant, before finally being released into the Danube River.

Image: Vienna Water

Image: Vienna Water

Many of the natural areas at the source of Austria’s spring waters are protected in order to preserve this important resource. The forests around Vienna’s springs, for example, are carefully managed to maintain the correct balance of native fir, spruce, and beech trees, according to Stadt Wien.

The different structures of each tree’s roots help to absorb and filter the water as it seeps through the soil. Nearby mountain huts, called “Berghütte,” have small water treatment plants to ensure that the water remains clean.

In this way, Austria’s waterworks allow the natural landscape to cleanse the water for them, so all that’s left to do is push it through the pipes.

The water is, however, meticulously monitored to guarantee a safe and quality supply. According to Austria’s drinking water infoportal, 93 percent of the country’s water arrives in its natural untreated state, meaning that most of the time, the water doesn’t even need to be disinfected.

Austrian residents can even plug their postal code into the infoportal to learn about the makeup of their water and who supplies it.

Will future Austrian generations enjoy the same quality water?

With such an abundant water network, it may seem as though Austria has always gathered its drinking water this way. And in some ways, perhaps it has. Vienna’s first spring-fed aqueduct brought fresh water to the city as early as the year 1565.

But according to Andreas Tribsch, ecology professor and researcher at the University of Salzburg, Austria’s water supply has not always been so stable or pollutant-free, even in recent history. 

“Pesticides and fertiliser were a big issue in the 80s and 90s, in regions where groundwater was used for the water supply,” Tribsch says. Vienna also ran into pollution problems when the city opened a new aqueduct in 2006.

“Vienna’s third aqueduct aimed to bring more groundwater in from the Vienna Basin. That was not successful,” Tribsch says. The aqueduct was subsequently contaminated by toxic waste from a nearby landfill, ultimately leading to stricter waste disposal laws.

“Much has improved,” he says, though he’s still concerned that water-intensive agriculture in Austria’s eastern regions is reducing the country’s groundwater stores.

Climate change has also raised concerns over the future of Austria’s water, with extreme weather events like drought and heavy rain becoming increasingly common.

While the incredible volume of Austria’s unused water suggests that there should be plenty to go around, scientists in Austria have already begun discussions in this area, hoping to conserve the country’s rich water resources well into the future.

With all of the care that goes into securing Austria’s water supply, the question remains: Do Austrians really flush that same pristine, alpine spring water down the toilet drain? 

The answer is yes — and it’s more common than you might think. For now, it seems, there’s plenty more where that came from.

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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Vienna legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge, or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Vienna.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Vienna legally

If you find yourself with a large piece of furniture or big household appliance that has seen its prime and is not bound to the trashcan, then you might be wondering where to dispose of them – legally, that is.

Even if it is not uncommon to see furniture or appliances next to the big trashcans often placed near households and apartment complexes, it is illegal to leave them there.

Different cities have different methods – some will even pick up trash at specific times and places. To know how your city deals with bulky waste (Sperrmüll), you can google “Sperrmüll + the name of your city”.

READ ALSO: Why does Vienna’s waste department have a helicopter and a military plane?

Vienna has several waste collection points where you can leave bulky waste, electrical appliances, hazardous waste (in household quantities) and other old goods for no charge.

The use of the Wiener Mistplätze is subject to certain quantity limits and requirements, but they are to avoid industrial use. Therefore, most households will have no problem with the limitations.

Here you can find several collection points in Vienna.

It is worth pointing out that delivery to those sites can only be made by cars with Viennese license plates, on foot or by bicycle. Furthermore, no trailers or company cars are allowed to leave trash at these collection points.

What can you bring to the collection centres?

This is the place to bring large sheets of plastic foil, bulky or large metal parts and electrical appliances, for example.

Additionally, you can bring small amounts of bulky waste, wood, styrofoam, large cardboard boxes, green waste and used tires to any waste collection centres.

Depending on what you are disposing of, you might need to go to the Rinter centre, one of the larger ones.

READ ALSO: Hasta la mista, baby? How to vote for your favourite Vienna trash can joke

The centres also have a separate division where it is possible to donate old items still in good condition, the so-called 48er-Tandler-Box.

Tableware, small furniture, electrical appliances, clothes, toys and other items can be reused and bought at a low price at the 48er-Tandler reuse shop.

Most centres are open only from Monday to Friday during business hours, but others are also available on Saturdays.

What to do if I don’t have a car?

If you don’t need a car but still need to dispose of a large appliance, the Viennese solution varies.

Some will take public transport with a couple of friends trying to help them carry an old sofa via the u-bahn, although that can get a little tough at peak hour. 

Alternatively, you can borrow or rent a vehicle to try and save costs.

READ ALSO: The downsides of Vienna you should be aware of before moving there

But Vienna City also has a service that will pick up the trash for a low fee – even if it is located in the attic, a basement or a courtyard.

It’s the Entrümpelungsdienst und Sperrmüllabfuhr der MA 48. You can also ask for the “dump service” when the city of Vienna brings a trough (the smallest can fit 12 cubic meters).

Once you fill it up, they will remove it and take it to the appropriate place.

Costs will depend on the amount of trash, the size of the appliance, and where in the household it is located.

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