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Lake Balaton Water: Is it Safe to Drink?

Fanni Kaszás 2019.07.16.

The beach season is already at its peak at Lake Balaton. The Hungarian public railway network operates with more trains during the summer between Budapest and the lakeside cities, which welcome visitors every week with a variety of programs from music festivals to sports programs. But how clean is the water at the ‘Hungarian Sea’ and is it possible to drink from the lake?  Viktor Tóth, senior researcher at the Balaton Limnological Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Center for Ecological Research, talked to divany.hu about water purity and the importance of limiting algae growth.

In the 1970’s, staff of the Balaton Limnological Institute – in cooperation with water authorities – have developed a detailed work plan to improve the condition of the lake. According to the Institute, at that time, the algae had multiplied, and algal blooming was not uncommon, nor was the problem of wastewater solved either. Since then however, no wastewater or end-product of wastewater treatment has been poured into the lake,  causing further pollution. In addition, biological water treatment has been launched around the lake. As a result, the water of Lake Balaton is really clear and its algae content is so low that it is comparable to seas and oceans.

Minimal algae content for years

According to Tóth, the quality of the water is not only good this year, but has been for years. He added that the algae content of the lake is minimal, which is not only good because the green color of the water destroys the aesthetics of the ‘Hungarian Sea,’  but the lesser algae content has less health-damaging effects on bathers as well. In extreme cases, algal blooms could even cause death, as algae may produce dangerous toxins. Tóth noted that algae poisoning has not yet occurred in Hungary and there has been no sight of algal blooms in Lake Balaton for 5-6 years. He added that what is more, no industrial pollution and oil spills can be observed around the lake; however, it is impossible to control all of Balaton’s 240 kilometers of coastline and local pollution may still occur.

photo: Boglárka Bodnár/MTI

Can you drink from the water?

According to the Institute, it has long been a belief that if we pour a glass of water from the middle of a lake and drink it, it won’t cause any problems. However, Tóth warns that although Lake Balaton is in fact clean enough,  holidaymakers still have to be careful: “The water is really clean, even in the coastal zones, but at the beaches in Siófok for example, you would certainly not drink from the lake, as the uncontrolled behavior and littering of bathers locally pollutes the water.” He added that the best places to swim in Balaton where there are no crowds and the water is cleaner, are around the reeds and hilly areas.

photo: György Varga/MTI

What does the future hold?

Climate change is threatening Hungary, and the rise in temperature and extreme weather phenomena may have an impact on Lake Balaton in the future as well. Tóth said: “On the one hand, the warming of the water and the decrease of the water level is in favor of algae growth. The alien tropical and subtropical algae will benefit from warming water.” He added that sudden thunderstorms may also infiltrate the water with pollutants from surrounding cities.

All in all, although the purity of the water of Lake Balaton has been excellent for years and it can be compared to  sea and ocean quality, along with minimal algae content, the Institute still does not recommend drinking from the lake – especially around more crowded beaches, where people further pollute it.