Four Important Characteristics of Drinking Water

Updated on:
January 9, 2024

There are four very important characteristics that can assess the state of drinking water supplies:

  • Quantity
  • Quality
  • Reliability
  • Cost

An ideal combination of these four factors leads to healthy, safe drinking water and a thriving human population.


According to the United Nations and other organizations, each person requires a minimum of 20 to 50 liters of water per day for drinking, food preparation, and personal hygiene.

Getting enough water each day is much easier for some than for others.

In fact, according the US government, “if the world’s water supply were only 100 liters (26 gallons), our usable water supply of fresh water would be only about 0.003 liter (one-half teaspoon).”

Four billion people don’t get enough water. That’s roughly half the world’s population.

Combined with that relatively low availability of drinkable water, the uneven distribution of wealth, the continued climate crisis, and the proliferation of war around the world have created a water crisis that continues to worsen.


Drinking water quality standards collectively established by the World Health Organization (WHO), the EPA, and other organizations outline the allowable microbial, biological, and radiological features of safe drinking water.

The overabundance of chemicals or microbes produced from human and animal waste, industrial chemicals, agricultural runoff, and even natural contaminants render some water unsuitable to drink and cause water-related disorders.

The quality of drinking water dissipates when sources of water are not protected or are suddenly contaminated for any reason.

The quality of drinking water declines when foreign pollutants are introduced into groundwater or surface water.

Poor storage can also lead to contamination. Therefore, proper care must be taken to ensure all water storage facilities are clean.


The WHO recommends that distribution systems make drinking water available so that people do not have to go more than one kilometer from where they would consume it.

Unfortunately, sources of water are unpredictable and unreliable in many parts of the world. Seasons, years, and locations can all affect water reliability, as can geopolitics.

Some locations gain significant rainfall during the monsoon seasons only to remain dry during the other half of the year, while others are affected by certain climate phenomena like El Niño and La Niña, which upset weather patterns.

The amount of water in rivers and lakes might be inconsistent as well. Some rivers only flow for a significant portion of the year, leaving a dry riverbed with no nearby water supply. Overuse of rivers and lakes can also cause them to dry up.

The reliability of the distribution system that supplies water to the people is crucial to maintaining water quality at the household level. The quality and availability of drinking water suffer when pipes are broken or only sporadic service is available.

Tapping into groundwater can often compensate for the unpredictability of surface water. However, the amount and availability of drinking water decline if groundwater supplies are drained too quickly or are not adequately refilled by natural or human processes.

To that end, conservation is paramount.


Some water costs are monetary while others are quantified in travel time to and from a clean drinking water source.

Some people pay for water to be piped to their houses by a local authority or a private utility. Those who do not have access to this infrastructure must purchase water from a number of sources, such as a water refilling station, a bottled water business, or a community source.

In many regions, these costs are growing faster than incomes can keep up with. For example, California, a state that frequently struggles with drought, has some of the most expensive water in the US.

In other parts of the world, people with little financial resources who frequently take time out of their day to walk to a water source and get clean water are affected by time-measured costs.

The time spent bringing water costs money in terms of health, productivity, and, in many cases, educational opportunities — a consequence disproportionately experienced by women and girls.

Eager to discover more about the state of water around the world?

Take the opportunity to expand your knowledge and gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities surrounding water conservation and management.

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