A study by an environmental research center says Cuenca has Ecuador’s best drinking water. It also reports that more than 65% of the country’s population boils its water even though it’s not required in most cases.
The Quito-based National Environmental Reseach Control Center reports that water quality has improved dramatically in the last decade and that tap water is safe for drinking in Quito and Guayaquil as well as Cuenca.
Cristina Torres, technical manager for the research center, said that contaminated water is still a problem for 25% to 30% of the population and some areas of the country, especially the coast, face long-term problems, not just with water quality but with quantity.
Cuenca’s water has long been known not only to be safe, but to be exceptionally good, the report says. Two international surveys, one in 2005 and another in 2009, have reported that the city’s tap water is the best in Latin America.
Water quality engineer Tom Williams, who participated in the 2009 study, says that Cuenca’s water ranks high by world standards. “It’s probably better than 90% of the water from municipal systems in North America and Europe,” says Williams, who works for a testing company in London. “It is very clean, has an exellent balance of minerals and, best of all, it’s abundant.”
Williams says that Cuenca is lucky to have its watershed located in a national park. “This is a bit of good fortunate, especially in a developing country,” he says.
The research center says that the areas with the most serious problems are in Santa Elena, Manabi and Santo Domingo provinces. It also identifies problems in parts of Imbabura and Pichincha provinces. “These areas rely on water from shallow wells,” the report says, “and many of the wells are near septic systems and this leads to contamination.”
The coast, which is an arid area, also faces water shortages and many communities are required to have water delivered by tanker truck. According to the report, trucked water is not only of questionable quality, but it is expensive. “Future coastal development could be seriously affected by scarcity. Some areas receive less than 100 millimetres (4 inches) of rainfall a year.”
One problem that communities with safe drinking water have, the report says, is convincing residents that they don’t need boiled or bottled water. “Guayaquil’s water is very drinkable but only 20% of the population drinks it from the tap. Old habits are hard to change.”
Speaking of bottled water, the report notes that Cuenca’s water was tested against four brands of commercial bottled water in 2010. Only one brand rated higher.
Photo caption: Cuenca’s water comes from the Cajas Mountains, west of the city.