In Switzerland we have not had to save water so far. But do we have to worry about our water in the future? What about our water reserves in the longer term?
Headline after headline has caused excitement this summer. It was exceptionally hot and dry. Should we be afraid for our water? Are our water reserves well positioned for the future? Because even in the moated castle of Switzerland, water had to be saved in some places. “It’s a new reality that we have to adapt to,” says Rolf Weingartner, Professor Emeritus of Hydrology. “A situation like this year will happen more and more often, which means we have to prepare for it.”
The toilet is the No.1 water consumer
In Mendrisio in the canton of Ticino it was so dry that there was even a call to save water. Therefore, the question was urgent: Where can we simply and effectively waste less water in everyday life? On average, the Swiss use 142 liters of drinking water per day. Around two-thirds of the water in the bathroom goes down the drain.
The toilet accounts for the largest share with 41 liters. There would be potential here to get used to the economy flushing of the toilet in dry phases. A hygienic rinsing process would also be possible with significantly less water. Consumption could thus be greatly reduced. Sure: taking shorter showers and not letting the water run when brushing your teeth are other logical measures.
Water Forecast: Local scarcity only
Everyone was talking about saving water this summer, but is it really necessary in the future? “All models show that we will continue to have enough water in Switzerland in the future,” says Weingartner. “The amount of water measured over the year will not change much.” So we don’t have to save drinking water, but use it in a reasonable amount. However, there can be local shortages during heat waves, as the case of Mendrisio shows. “What’s important for the future is a new water management system for the whole of Switzerland that encompasses all areas of water use,” says Weingartner.
The aquifers are generally well stocked. Other natural water reservoirs are lakes, rivers and soil. And they have been relatively stable so far. So far, they could be filled again and again by rain and snow.
Reservoirs: Beacons of hope as artificial water reservoirs
Glaciers and snowpack are also natural water reservoirs. Only: the glaciers are disappearing more and more and there is less snow in winter. If there is also a long dry period in summer, like this year, we have a real problem in some places. In the future, more water could therefore be stored artificially, for example in reservoirs. As a result, these are not only used for hydroelectric power, but in the event of a drought, their water can be used in agriculture and as drinking water in the valley.
Project for new water management
Storing water in reservoirs: This is exactly what is to be realized in Lienne-Raspille on the Lac de Tseuzier near Sion. The communities in the region and electricity suppliers want to transport four million cubic meters more meltwater to the reservoir so that it is well filled in summer and can provide the region with excess water if necessary.
Accordingly, electricity production in winter should not be affected because the lake has more water available than before.
Rolf Weingartner’s prognosis is: “Switzerland will not become a watery ruin.” But there will be clearer differences between winter and summer. “Better water management is needed to compensate for this imbalance,” says the hydrologist. Artificial water reservoirs could play an important role in this. Despite climate change, we are well positioned. “We only have a problem if we don’t do anything.”