Estonian spring water abundant, but caution sometimes needed when drinking

Raised bog landscape in Estonia.
Raised bog landscape in Estonia. Source: ERR

While as many as around 1,500 natural springs have been recorded across Estonia and entered into the environmental register (Keskkonnaregister), the actual number could be ten times as high, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Monday.

At the same time, enthusiasm for collecting spring water for drinking many members of the public have shown needs to be tempered with caution, according to one expert.

Hydrologist Andres Marandi of the Estonian geological service (Eesti geoloogiateenistuse) told AK that: "What trends demonstrate for the future is that more and more springs may be utilized in groundwater monitoring; more and more springs could be monitored."

"On the one hand, this will give a better picture to people of what can be imbibed, but, on the other hand, it also gives us a very good picture of what is happening in an area where the water accumulates from a source," he added.

Although, according to hydrologists, toxic nitrates and many types of herbicide and pesticide may have entered many springs and groundwater, sometimes via lakes, this does not stop many from collecting water from a spring, thinking it clean, whereas ascertaining just how safe a source is is not a simple matter.

The location of most springs in Estonia on their own have not been mapped, leave alone their water quality.

Marandi said springs in ​​Pandivere, Lääne-Viru County, and Adavere, Jõgeva County, are being systematically investigated, and are already known to have nitrate and pesticide/herbicide residue pollution.

Kristel Vilbaste, granddaughter of Gustav Vilbaste (1885-1967), a botanist and naturalist who was one of Estonia's best-known spring explorers, said that thousands of people make up the "spring going" community – she has even experienced long lines of people waiting to take the water at some locations.

People's rationale in engaging in this hobby have changed down the years, she added. Whereas 30 years ago it was at the heart of a desire to know more about folk traditions, a decade later, the motivation was more for health purposes. Today, the focus is on actual drinking water, and a return to the practice of collecting spring water which had diminished somewhat during the Covid pandemic.

Vilbaste noted that Saaremaa was particularly famed for its springs

In any case, collecting spring water is also worthwhile as a backup for a crisis situation, including for those who have wells which are pumped by electricity. Purifying water at home, even just cleaning any leaves and other detritus which may have fallen into a spring, is also hardly forbidden, she added.

Andres Marandi nonetheless urged caution in taking spring water.

One or two drinks, even with small amounts of pollutants including nitrates, will not be harmful , but more regular consumption might be, making checking out the source of a source, as it were, a worthwhile precaution.

E-Coli is another potential hazard, he said.

Nonetheless, "I dare say I would rather drink the water that comes from a spring like this, than spend the day at some seminar somewhere, drinking their tap water with a few cucumbers and lemons put in. This is certainly dirtier, let's say," Vilbaste said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera', reporter Ode Maria Punamäe.

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