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Amsterdam Drinking Water

Deer by lake


Nice restaurants provide a free carafe of tap water on request. This is how the conversation goes:

Waiter: Would you like water?

You: Yes please.

Waiter: Still or with gas? (Almost tricking you into ordering a bottle.)

You: Tap water will be perfect thank you, I hear you have wonderful tap water here, I’ve been looking forward to trying it.

Amsterdam has always had problems with water, usually too much of it, but then, often not of the right type. Famously the Dutch shunned drinking water in favour of beer and milk.  Mild beer for kids, stronger for adults, and milk for everyone. Older Dutch people still feel offended if not offered a glass of milk with lunch. The reason for the beer / milk fetish was self-preservation. Beer was made with clean water, and it was easy to see if a cow was sick and then not drink the milk.

When Amsterdam’s canals became stinking cesspits it was necessary to bring drinking water to the city. This was brought in by boats. Waterboats! The city ran into problems during very cold winters, the likes of which we cannot even imagine here today. The Amstel river would freeze so solidly that the waterboats could not reach the city and people would die of dehydration, surrounded by ice!

The dune area around Haarlem had always benefited from lovely clean water pumped straight out of the ground. The rainwater, yes we get that here, seeps through the dunes being naturally filtered on the way and what was pumped out below is amazing clean, healthy water.  This was a rare commodity in the 1800s.

Jacob van Lennep was relaxing at his county home in the dunes near Haarlem, enjoying the benefits of being a successful writer, politician and wealthy lawyer. His wife brought him a glass of splendid dune-filtered water and he thought damn! I need to get this to Amsterdam and sell it. Luckily for him he was well connected and managed to find investors in England to cough up some cash. As it happened, his dad owned the dunes and sold a patch to the newly formed Amsterdam Dune Water Company. After building a 3.5km canal with a few sand filters and a 23km pipeline, dune water was for sale, in 1853, in Amsterdam for a penny a bucket!

The effect was a leap forward in public health, causing a reduction, and then eradication of cholera. Wealthier Amsterdammers could connect directly to the network and with increased demand, new channels were dug in the dunes to increase supply.

This area is now known as the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen,.. Amsterdam Water Supply Dunes and is a nature reserve area with beautiful walking trails.  Nowadays water from the Rhine is routed into the upper level dune infiltration channels and sinks slowly being naturally filtered until it reaches the lower channel area, this takes about 3 months.  From the lower level it is pumped away to a man-made filtration area where it undergoes further purification: membrane / ozone / carbon filtering, before being pumped to Amsterdam where it now gushes out of every tap and flushes down every toilet.

Two thirds of Amsterdam’s water comes from the dunes, an amazing 70 million cubic metres of water is purified this way per year. So fill up your water bottle from the tap, any tap. There’s really no point in paying a couple of euros for a plastic bottle of the stuff.

For more tips like this from locals, and stories along the way please join one of our tours. We love sharing our city!