Water Supply

Water plays a vital role both in human societies and natural ecosystems.

Sept 30th, 2023

With over 2 billion people living in countries experiencing high water stress (United Nations, 2018), whereby a significant fraction of the available renewable freshwater resources is withdrawn, it is becoming more and more crucial to manage water resources such that the needs of different consumers are met, while respecting the requirements of the surrounding environment. 

Knowing how much water is extracted, consumed, and discharged during the production of goods and services allows to make well-informed decisions concerning the management of water resources, as well as estimate the potential impacts of water use on the environment. 

Sector Overview 

The water supply sector in the ecoinvent database comprises over 150 datasets which model the extraction, treatment, and distribution of water. Data for three main types of water are available in the ecoinvent database: 

  • Tap water 
  • Process water (used mainly for industrial processes) 
  • Irrigation water 

The geographies of the water production datasets cover 20 regions and countries located on the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa and North and South America. 

Sector Highlights 

Tap Water

In the ecoinvent database, tap water represents water that is treated and supplied by centralized municipal water supply systems. The tap water may be consumed in households or can be used for commercial or industrial purposes. The production and supply of tap water consists of two steps in the ecoinvent database: the extraction and treatment of water is modelled in the “tap water production” activities, while the markets for tap water model the distribution of tap water to the end-consumer. 

The production and distribution of tap water is modelled for several region and countries, including Europe, India, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and South Africa. Depending on the origin of the water that is extracted and the quality requirements, which vary between countries, a different treatment technology is required. Datasets that model the following types of treatments are available in the ecoinvent database: 

  • conventional (coagulation, flocculation and sedimentation) 
  • underground water with chemical treatment or disinfection 
  • direct filtration 
  • microstrainer 
  • ultrafiltration 
  • seawater reverse osmosis with conventional or ultrafiltration pretreatment 

The market activities for tap water include the amount of infrastructure needed to distribute the water and take into account losses that occur during the treatment and distribution. 

Process Water

For certain production processes, water that meets specific quality criteria is required. The ecoinvent database provides data modelling the production of four types of water that may be used as input to industrial processes (Gmünder et al., 2019): 

  1. Completely softened water: corresponds to water that has undergone treatment to remove minerals that may precipitate and accumulate in equipment and piping. 
  2. Decarbonized water: represents water from which organic suspended matter and calcium bicarbonate have been removed. It is used for example in water cooling towers and flue gas scrubbers. 
  3. Deionised water: is water that has had almost all its mineral ions removed (such as iron, sodium, calcium, copper, sulphate, and chloride). It is typically used in cooling systems, machine lubrication, and the production of cosmetics and medicine. 
  4. Ultrapure water: represents water that has been heavily purified in order to meet very strict quality specifications. It is mostly used in the semiconductor industry, for power generation and for the production of pharmaceuticals. 


Datasets for three different irrigation technologies are available in the ecoinvent database: 

  • Surface irrigation: the water is applied simply using gravity, either by flooding the entire field, or by feeding the water into small channels or strips of land. 
  • Sprinkler irrigation: the water is sprayed into the air, in order to mimic natural rainfall. 
  • Drip irrigation: the water is applied from a system of pipes directly onto the soil, close to the plants so that only part of the soil in which the roots grow is wetted 

For sprinkler and drip irrigation, the amount of energy consumed per m3 of withdrawn takes into account the irrigation technology, which considers, among other things, the pump efficiency and the average depth from which water is pumped. The origin of the water is also considered (surface, ground or other sources), for which the shares vary from one country to another. 

The ecoinvent database contains datasets that model irrigation in over 15 countries, such as Brazil, France, India, Peru, South Africa and the United States of America. 

Data Providers 

ecoinvent data originates from different sources. The main data providers for data related to water supply are from the following institutions: 


  • Philippe Loubet (Main Editor for Water Supply), ENSCBP, Bordeaux INP, France 
  • Quantis, Switzerland 
  • Stephan Pfister (Main Editor for Water), ETH Zürich, Switzerland 

Relevant Sources

Gmünder S., Rubio L., Kounina A., Bunge J., Conza A., Soni H., Notten P., (2019). Life Cycle Inventories of Water Supply and Distribution. ecoinvent Association, Zürich, Switzerland. Accessible at SRI project results (registration required). 

Al-Sarkal T., Arafat, H. A., (2013). Ultrafiltration versus sedimentation-based pretreatment in Fujairah-1 RO plant: Environmental impact study. Desalination, Volume 317, 2013, Pages 55-66, ISSN 0011-9164, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.desal.2013.02.019

Jungbluth N., (2007) Erdöl. In: Sachbilanzen von Energiesystemen: Grundlagen für den ökologischen Vergleich von Energiesystemen und den Einbezug von Energiesystemen in Ökobilanzen für die Schweiz (ed. Dones R.). Swiss Centre for Life Cycle Inventories, Dübendorf, CH. Accessible in the Reports section of version 2.2 of the ecoinvent database