Potable water


Water of appropriate quality is essential for life. For humans, drinking water should have sufficiently low levels of dissolved salts and microbes. Water that is safe to drink is called potable water. Potable water is not pure water in the chemical sense because it contains dissolved substances.

The methods used to produce potable water depend on available supplies of water and local conditions.

In the United Kingdom (UK), rain provides water with low levels of dissolved substances (fresh water) that collects in the ground and in lakes and rivers, and most potable water is produced by:

  • choosing an appropriate source of fresh water
  • passing the water through filter beds
  • sterilising.
  • Sterilising agents used for potable water include chlorine, ozone or ultraviolet light.
  • If supplies of fresh water are limited, desalination of salty water or sea water may be required. Desalination can be done by distillation or
  • by processes that use membranes such as reverse osmosis. These processes require large amounts of energy.
  • Students should be able to:
  • distinguish between potable water and pure water
  • describe the differences in treatment of ground water and salty water
  • give reasons for the steps used to produce potable water