Monday, August 17, 2015

Water Purity in Fez Put To the Test

For years tourist operators and travel websites have warned visitors to Fez not to drink the tap water. While that advice was well meaning, it has now been proved wrong. Not only did it cause apprehension about health concerns, it fuelled massive consumption of bottled water and huge amounts of plastic waste. It also produced huge profits for the bottled water companies

The bottled water use in local riads is enormous. Fred Sola, who commissioned the water quality report, did so when he calculated that each month Riad Laaroussa supplied staff and guests with more than 600 1.5 litre bottles of water.

The bottled water industry is booming, recording strong total volume growth of 16% and 15% growth in total value sales in 2014.

Growth was mainly driven by the fact that in some Moroccan cities, domestic water was sometimes thought to be unclean and salty, which encouraged a large number of families to shift to bottled water.

This was illustrated by the fact that many companies launched 5-litre plastic bottles for family use at prices ranging between MAD 9.00 and MAD 11.00.

This week, independent laboratory analysis of tap water in Fez proved what the water authorities have been saying for years - tap water in Fez is clean, pure and uncontaminated.

Fez Medina tap water analysis details

The critical factors in the measurement of water purity are alkalinity, chlorine content, electrical conductivity, clarity, odour and bacterial content. As the recent report shows - detailed below - all of these measurements are better than the national standards demand, and in many cases, Fez tap water is better than that of many cities in Western countries.

The report shows that the pH of drinking water in Fez is 7.58. The pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity. As a comparison UK water quality regulations specify that the pH of tap water should be between 6.5 and 9.5. National standards in Morocco say that the pH should be between 6.5 and a maximum of 8.5.

As in all treated water there are normally traces of free chlorine also known as residual chlorine. Free chlorine in drinking water indicates that a sufficient amount of chlorine was added initially to the water to combat the bacteria and some viruses that cause diarrhoea; and the water is protected from recontamination during storage. The presence of free chlorine in drinking water correlates with the absence of most disease-causing organisms, and so is a measure of the potability of water. In tap water in the Fez Medina, free chlorine residue is around 0.3 mg/litre. The World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline value for free chlorine in drinking water is a maximum of 0.5 mg/L.

Electrical Conductivity is the ability of a solution to transfer (conduct) electric current. It is the reciprocal of electrical resistivity (ohms). Therefore conductivity is used to measure the concentration of dissolved solids which have been ionised in a solution such as water. However when water temperature increases, so will conductivity. For every 1°C increase, conductivity values can increase 2-4%. Temperature affects conductivity by increasing ionic mobility as well as the solubility of many salts and minerals 30. This can be seen in diurnal variations as a body of water warms up due to sunlight, (and conductivity increases) and then cools down at night (decreasing conductivity).

Specific conductance at 25 degrees C
is used as a standard of comparison
 for different water sources as conductivity
 ratios change with temperature.

Conductivity is usually measured in micro-siemens per centimeter (uS/cm).

Due to temperature’s direct effect, conductivity is measured at or corrected to a standardised temperature (usually 25°C) for comparability. In Fez testing showed tap water conductivity of 895 uS/cm. The maximum allowable in Morocco is 2700. Again, for comparison, potable water in the USA ranges up to 1500 uS/cm.

Turbidity is the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid caused by large numbers of individual particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye, similar to smoke in air. The measurement of turbidity is a key test of water quality. Turbidity is measured in Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU).

The WHO establishes that the turbidity of drinking water should not be more than 5 NTU, and should ideally be below 1 NTU. Across Morocco the maximum allowable is 5 NTU, but the good news is that in Fez the drinking water turbidity is 0.178.

Odour intensity in water is normally scored in a range between 0 and 4, with 0 having no taste or odour through to 4, which is very strong.

The report on Fez drinking water describes taste and odour as being very low "at the threshold of perception" and rated as below 1. Water colour was also minimal at 1. The national maximum standard in Morocco is below 3 for odour and below 20 for colour.

Fez water is clear, clean and safe to drink

Almost all natural waters contain chloride and sulfate ions. Their concentrations vary considerably according to the mineral content of the earth in any given area. In small amounts they are not significant. In large concentrations they present problems. Usually chloride concentrations are low. Sulfates can be more troublesome because they generally occur in greater concentrations. Low to moderate concentrations of both chloride and sulfate ions add palatability to water. In fact, they are desirable for this reason. Excessive concentrations of either, of course, can make water unpleasant to drink.

In Fez, tap water testing shows around 115 mg/Litre for chlorides and 24.6 mg for sulphates. The maximum set by Moroccan regulations is 750 for chlorides and 400 for sulphates. By comparison the American EPA Secondary Drinking Water Regulations recommend a maximum concentration of 250 mg/1 for chloride ions and 250 mg/1 for sulfate ions.

Coliforms are a broad class of bacteria found in our environment, including the feces of human and other warm-blooded animals. The presence of coliform bacteria in drinking water may indicate a possible presence of harmful, disease-causing organisms. There are zero present in Fez tap water.

E. coli is a type of fecal coliform bacteria commonly found in the intestines of animals and humans. E. coli is short for Escherichia coli. The presence of E. coli in water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination. Again there are zero in Fez water.

The same zero result was indicated when testing for Enterococci and bacterial spores.

The laboratory tests were carried out by the specialist environmental company Laboratoire QEE S.A.R.L. in Fez, and Fred Sola told The View From Fez that he intends to repeat the analysis each month to ensure there are no fluctuations in quality.

ONEP was recognised for its water quality programme for Fez

Water purity in Morocco is governed at the national level by ONEP (Office National de l'eau Potable) and at the local level in Fez by RADEEF - the office for distribution of water and electricity. On January 6 this year, the water branch of ONEP was recognised for the quality of its water treatment in Fez.

Advice for tourists

So, if Fez tap water is safe, why does the myth continue? One of the reasons is probably a hangover from the days before sophisticated water and waste treatment.

Even major tourist companies still peddle out-of-date information:
Drink lots of water. The city streets can get hot and close during the afternoon. When buying bottled water on the street, check that the seals on the lid have not been opened. Sometimes people fill bottles with tap water. The safest thing to do is to drink bubbly water, which can't be faked ~ Fodor's "Fez: A Survival Guide"
Moroccan travel expert Tim Cullis looks at the issue and explains why people often get ill and says it is not from the water.

Tim Cullis writes that Morocco's ONEP (Organisation National de l'Eau Portable) invested nearly $700 million last year in domestic water projects.

"Tap water within towns is perfectly safe to drink. Yes, sometimes there's a faint chlorine taste when it's first poured, but I sometimes find that in the UK as well. My favourite drink in Morocco is qhwa nus nus (milky coffee--literally coffee half-half) and this is normally served with a glass of tap water. If not, you can ask for a glass of water, "cas diel l'ma arfak".

"Often cafés will provide free bottles of tap water from the fridge. The popular bottled mineral waters are Sidi Ali, Sidi Harazem (Saint Ali, Saint Harazem) etc., the joke phrase for tap water is Sidi Robinet (Saint Tap).

"Well water is often used outside of towns, and if it's for public consumption (restaurants, guest houses) the well mechanism has to include filters and have to have a certificate. But I've had tea in the middle of absolutely nowhere made from water from a basic well, and not suffered."

The most sensible advice ~ wash your hands!

Tim Cullis emphasises, however, that it's vital to do what your mother taught you as a child. "Wash your hands before eating. Most upset stomachs are caused by handling dirty bank notes and other items, then eating eating bread with your hands and transferring the bacteria to your stomach.

"Moroccans are fastidious about washing their hands before eating and every cafe, no matter how humble, will have a sink with running water for washing your hands. Mime 'hand washing' and you'll be pointed to it. You'll also gain street credibility amongst Moroccans who are generally amazed at the poor personal hygiene of Europeans."

Waste Water Treatment - Clean and Green

Belgian company, Waterleau, designed and built the municipal wastewater treatment plant of the city of Fez, which has a population of 1.3 million.

Waste water treatment in Fez is state of the art

Waterleau is also responsible for the operation and maintenance of the plant for a period of 10 years. The plant reduces 85% of the pollution of the river Sebou, treating 120.000 m³ of sewage water per day or 40 million m³ annually.

Half of the plant's energy requirements come from biogas, provided from digestion of the sludge, an important by-product of the biological wastewater treatment process. Daily, 28.800 m³ of methane is produced, providing 2.75 million Kwh per year. The plant allows a considerable reduction of greenhouse gases: the treatment process reduces 103.000 tons of CO2 per year.

So the next time you are sitting at a cafe in Fez, and are given a glass of tap water, along with your qhwa, there is no reason to hesitate.

The View from Fez would like to thank Fred Sola for making the report available.

Print Friendly and PDF

No comments: