Is tap water in Moscow safe to drink?

Moscow is huge and quite polluted. But what about the city’s tap water? Is it safe to drink or should you stick to bottled water during your stay in the Russian capital? In this blog post are my findings. 

Moscow’s water supply systems

The initiative to create a water supply system for the city of Moscow came from Catherine II (Catherine the Great). In 1804 the first pipeline from Mytishchi village to Moscow was completed. Nowadays Mytishchi is part of the Moscow urban area.

Of course, Moscow has several water treatment plants. Each one of them has its own area to supply with water. The areas for which the water treatment plants are responsible are however fluid, they can change during the course of the day.

Nowadays, over 12 thousand kilometers of waterworks are spread beneath the city’s surface.

Sources of Moscow tap water

The water in Moscow’s water pipes comes from The regions (oblasti) of Moscow, Smolensk and Tver. 99% of the water in Moscow is surface water that is collected from three main sources:

    1. Sources from the Moskva river, water collected from the Moskva river accounts for about 60% of Moscow’s water consumption The following reservoirs are used for this:
      • The Ruzskoe reservoir, with water from the rive Ruze, which flows out into the Moskva river
      • The Higher Ruzskoe reservoir, which also collects water from the Ruze river
      • The Ozerinskoe reservoir, which collects water from the river Ozerna, a river that flows out into the river Ruze
      • The Mozhayskoe reservoir, which collects water from the river Koloch (sometimes also spelled as Kolocha), which flows out into the Moskva river
      • The Istrinskoye reservoir, which collects water from the river Istra, which flows out into the Moskva river
    2. Sources from the Volga river account for 40% of Moscow’s water consumption. The following reservoirs are used for this:
      • The Ivankovkoye reservoir (wikipedia). This reservoir is also known as the Moscow sea and is by far the most important reservoir in Moscow’s water supply system. Almost half the city’s water comes from this reservoir.  It is located 130 kilometers north of the city of Moscow. The Moscow Canal connects the water from this reservoir to the Moskva river.
      • The Klyazminskoe reservoir, which takes water from the Moscow Canal
      • The Pyalovskoe reservoir, which is also a place where Muscovites like to come to relax and to fish. Water in the Pyalovskoe reservoir comes from
      • The Ikshinskoye reservoir, which takes water from the Moscow Canal and is also a popular place to relax and fish
      • The Uchinskoye reservoir, dates from 1937 and  takes its water from the river Ucha and from the river Vyaz’
      • The Chimkinskoye reservoir, which was also created in 1937 and takes it water from the Moscow Canal
      • And lastly the Pestovskoye reservoir, also created in 1937, which takes it water from the rivers Vyaz’ and Kakotka
    3. The Vazuzskoye Hydrotechnical system
      This system is used to supply the 2 above mentioned sources, it is basically a huge backup, that can supply. It was put into operation in 1978.

Cleaning of Moscow water

Obviously the water from these three regions is thorougly  cleaned, before it enters the Moscow water pipes.

The cleaning of the water starts with coagulation (wikipedia). This is a process in which chemicals, like polymers are added to the water to make them stick to molecules that you want removed in order to remove the more easily.

The water is further cleaned by exposing it to UV light. It has long been known that exposure to UV light kills bacteria in water.

The water is further cleaned by passing it through sand filters. The use of sand filters allows one to get fairly clean water, without the use of chemicals. The filter usually contains sand of varying grades and may also contain a layer of activated carbon to remove the taste given to the water by the sand.

Since 2012 chloride is no longer used to disinfect in Moscow’s water treatment plants.  The use of it chloride has been controversial for many years. Chloride may react with organic substances in the water, thereby creating disinfection by-products (wikipedia). Also chloride itself is highly toxic and therefore the use of it is controversial.

Instead of chloride Mosvodkanal now uses sodium hypochlorite.

If necessary the Moscow water is further treated with ozone, which has a greater disinfection effectiveness against bacteria and viruses than chlorination. Also, further treatment with activated carbon is an option.

Because of these different methods that are used to clean the water, the chance that there are significant concentrates of harmful substances left in the water are reduced to zero. And you should be able to drink straight from the tap without causing any harm to your health.

Mosvodkanal, responsible for Moscow water

Screenshot homepage Mosvodkanal

The organisation that is responsible for tap water in Moscow is Mosvodkanal.

Strangely enough Mosvodkanal is a Joint Stock company. They have 216 878 455 849 shares, which are worth 1 ruble per share (in Russian only). The only shareholder of the company is the city of Moscow.

Check out the quality of the water in your neighbourhood on Mosvodkanal’s website

On this page of Mosvodkanal’s site you can type in your address and check the average water quality of the neighbourhood of Moscow you are staying in. It doesn’t seem to work very well though.

Ever stricter requirements

Because of the appearance of new contaminating substances the requirements to the quality of the water in Moscow become ever stricter. During the past 20 years these requirements have been revised already 3 times.

Difference between cold and hot water

Whereas cold water is considered to be relatively safe to drink. Many people advise against drinking hot water straight from the tap in Moscow.
One reason for this is that some old water pipes are made of lead and hot water passing through these pipes is more likely to contain lead. Lead is toxic for humans.

Also often some formally not dangerous substance is used to descale boilers. It is better not to ingest too much of this descaling substance though. Ofcourse you won’t die if you drink of it and you might not even feel much from it.

What do environmental organizations say?

Environmental organisation are in general less optimistic about the quality of Moscow’s drinking water. At the end of 2017 the environmentalist of Pikunet started protesting against some new apartment complexes from the building company Pik.

According to the activists the dirty sewer water from apartment complexes , such as apartment complex Ilyinskie luga from this building company ends is dumped directly in some of the abovementioned reservoirs and therefore forms a serious threat to the quality of Moscow’s drinking water.

 Conclusion

Like in Saint Petersburg, the water in Moscow is safe to drink when it leaves the water treatment plant. Water pipes in some parts of the city are old and through erosion parts of the pipes may end up in the tap water. It is therefore recommendable to keep the water running for a bit in the morning before you drink tap water,  if you are staying in an old part of Moscow. On the site of Mosvodkanal you can check the quality of the tap water in your area of Moscow.

In spite of the above and the statements from Mosvodkanal that the city’s tap water is safe to drink without any further cleansing, many Muscovites will tend to use a filter to clean their tap water and maybe boil it to.

 

 

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