What is Potable Water? Definition, Importance, and Safety

Potable water is a term used to describe safe water for human consumption. It is essential for human survival and used for drinking, cooking, and sanitation. Potable water is a basic human need, and access to it is a fundamental human right.

However, not all water sources are safe for human consumption, and water treatment is necessary to ensure the water is safe and free from harmful contaminants. Water treatment involves several processes to remove impurities and ensure the water is safe for consumption.

Key Takeaways

  • Potable water is safe for human consumption and is essential for human survival.
  • Water treatment is necessary to ensure water is safe and free from harmful contaminants.
  • Access to potable water is considered a fundamental human right.

Definition of Potable Water

Definition of Potable Water

Another name for drinking water is potable water. Water from natural sources is only sometimes safe to drink. It may contain contaminants such as microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, toxic chemicals, and fecal matter.

Therefore, potable water must be treated to remove these contaminants and meet state and federal standards for consumption. It is important to ensure your water is potable to avoid waterborne illnesses.

Importance of Potable Water

Importance of Potable Water

Access to safe and clean drinking water is crucial for maintaining good health and preventing the spread of waterborne diseases. Here are some reasons why potable water is important:


Drinking water is necessary to keep your body hydrated. Your body needs water to function properly, and it is essential for a wide range of bodily functions, including regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, and transporting nutrients and oxygen to your cells.

Preventing Waterborne Diseases

Potable water is treated to remove harmful contaminants and bacteria that can cause waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. Drinking contaminated water can lead to serious health problems, particularly in vulnerable populations such as children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.

Supporting Economic Development

Access to potable water is essential for economic development. It is necessary for agriculture, industry, and commerce and can help reduce poverty and improve living standards.

Environmental Sustainability

Potable water is a finite resource, and using it responsibly and sustainably is important. Conserving water and reducing water pollution can help protect the environment and support the long-term availability of potable water.

Sources of Potable Water

Sources of Potable Water

Regarding potable water, several sources can be used to provide safe drinking water. In this section, we will explore the most common sources of potable water and how they are treated to ensure they are safe for consumption.

Surface Water

Surface water is one of the most common sources of potable water. This includes water from lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. The treatment process involves several steps that include filtration, disinfection, and adjustment of the pH.

Ground Water

This includes water that is found in underground aquifers. Groundwater is of higher quality compared to surface water because it is naturally filtered as it moves through layers of soil and rock. Groundwater is treated in much the same way as surface water, with several steps involved in the treatment process.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is an increasingly popular way to collect and store water for potable use. The process here involves the collection of rainwater from rooftops or other surfaces and storing the water in tanks or containers.

The collected rainwater is then treated to remove any contaminants that are present. Rainwater harvesting is a sustainable way to provide potable water, as it reduces the demand for other water sources.

Treatment or Safety Measures of Potable Water

Treatment or Safety Measures of Potable Water

It undergoes various treatment and safety measures to ensure water is safe to drink. Here are some of the most common methods:


A process that removes impurities and particles from the water is filtration. In this process, the water goes through a filter medium, like sand, gravel, or activated carbon. Then the filter medium traps all the impurities and allows the clean water to pass through. Filtration removes suspended particles from the water, such as dirt and sediment.


A process done to kill or inactivate harmful microorganisms and parasites in the water is disinfection. The most common disinfection method is chlorination, which involves adding chlorine. Chlorine is a powerful disinfectant that can kill a wide range of microorganisms. Other disinfection methods include ozonation, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and hydrogen peroxide.

Removal of Salts

The presence of salts in the water can make it unsafe to drink. Salts can cause various health problems, such as high blood pressure and kidney damage. To remove salts from the water, a process called desalination is used.

Desalination removes the salt from the water by two processes, either distillation or reverse osmosis. Distillation involves boiling and collecting the steam, which is then condensed into pure water. Reverse osmosis involves passing the water through a membrane that removes the salt and other impurities.

Storage and Distribution of Potable Water

It is essential to store and distribute potable water in a manner that ensures it remains safe and free from contamination. In this section, we will discuss the storage and distribution of potable water.

Storage of Potable Water

Potable water is stored in various ways, depending on the location, climate, and available resources. The most common methods of storing potable water include:

Water Towers

Water towers are tall structures that store water at a high elevation. They use gravity to supply water to the surrounding areas.

Ground Storage Tanks

Ground storage tanks are large containers that store water underground. They are commonly used in urban areas where space is limited.


Reservoirs are large bodies of water that store water for later use. They are typically located in rural areas and are used to supply water to nearby towns and cities.


Cisterns are underground tanks storing rainwater or water from other sources. They are commonly used in areas where water is scarce.

Distribution of Potable Water

Potable water is distributed through a network of pipes and pumps that transport water from the source to the consumer. The distribution system includes the following components:

Treatment Plants

Treatment plants are facilities that treat raw water to make it safe for human consumption. They remove impurities and disinfect the water to kill harmful bacteria and viruses.

Pumping Stations

Pumping stations transport water from the treatment plant to the distribution network. They use pumps to increase the pressure of the water, allowing it to flow through the pipes.

Distribution Mains

Distribution mains are large pipes that transport water from the pumping station to the distribution network. They are typically made of steel or concrete and can range from 6 inches to 10 feet in diameter.

Service lines

Service lines are smaller pipes that transport water from the distribution mains to the consumer’s property. They are typically made of copper or plastic and range in size from 3/4 inch to 2 inches in diameter.

Challenges in Providing Potable Water

Challenges in Providing Potable Water

Providing potable water is a complex task that involves many challenges. Here are some of the challenges that make it difficult to provide safe and clean drinking water to everyone:


Pollution is a major challenge when it comes to providing potable water. Industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and untreated sewage are just a few of the sources of pollution that can contaminate water sources. Polluted water can contain harmful chemicals, bacteria, and other pathogens that can cause serious health problems.

Climate Change

Climate change is another challenge that can affect the quality and availability of potable water. Changes in weather patterns can lead to droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events that can disrupt water supplies. Rising temperatures can also lead to harmful algae blooms in lakes and rivers, making drinking water unsafe.

Infrastructure Issues

Infrastructure issues can also pose a challenge to providing potable water. Aging water pipes, leaking infrastructure, and inadequate treatment facilities can all contribute to the problem. In some areas, the infrastructure may need to be improved to meet the needs of a growing population.

Impact of Non-Potable Water

Impact of Non-Potable Water

Non-potable water is unsafe for human consumption but can be used for other purposes such as irrigation, industrial processes, and flushing toilets. While non-potable water can provide a valuable resource for these purposes, there are also potential impacts to consider.

Health and Safety Concerns

Non-potable water may contain contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, and chemicals that can pose health risks to humans and animals. Exposure to these contaminants can cause various illnesses, from minor skin irritations to more severe conditions such as Legionnaires’ disease.

Environmental Concerns

Non-potable water can also have environmental impacts, such as the usage of non-potable water for irrigation, will lead to soil salinization, reducing crop yields and damaging natural ecosystems. And discharging non-potable water into rivers or streams can lead to pollution and harm aquatic life.

To minimize environmental impacts, it is important to ensure that non-potable water is used responsibly and sustainably.


What are the important requirements of potable water?

It should be transparent and free from impurities such as suspended solids and contain some minerals and salts that are necessary for our body and some dissolved gases to add taste.

What are the objectives of potable water?

The primary purpose of drinking potable water is to protect public health. Water that is consumed by humans should not contain disease-causing organisms, hazardous concentrations of toxic chemicals, or radioactive parameters.

Is potable water an important commodity?

Water differs from other commodities as it is necessary and vital for human life and important for achieving sustainable development in all its economic, social, and environmental aspects.


Potable water is safe for humans as well as animals, and that is why everyone should make a habit of preserving it. Water is used for numerous purposes, and wasting any amount of water is considered a big loss to future generations. Make sure you are using potable water in the required amounts.