Water is one of the most valuable resources, but summer droughts and flood disasters seem to be becoming the norm as a result of the climate crisis. How can the water supply be secured?
In the largely gray and wet March in Germany, the thought of water shortages seems far away, but the supply of the resource must be well organized. In particular, because the natural water supply in the Federal Republic is very unequally distributed: According to the Federal Environment Agency, ten to twenty times more water is available in the mountainous regions of southern Germany than in dry Brandenburg.
Environment Minister Steffi Lemke has now put the issue of water supply on her agenda. In the future, for example, it wants to use interconnected networks and long-distance pipelines to bring water from Germany’s wet regions to dry areas. “The past years of drought have left clear traces in our forests, lakes and rivers and in agriculture,” said the Green politician of the German Press Agency.
As part of a national water strategy, the Ministry of the Environment wants to work with the countries to evaluate where interconnected networks and long-distance pipelines are needed to compensate for regional differences in water availability. The first long-distance lines already exist, for example in Stuttgart or Hesse. Lemke now wants to combine this with the water strategy.
Precipitation very unevenly distributed
“Although there is no water stress on average in Germany,” writes the Federal Environment Agency, “there are regional and seasonal differences.” The precipitation is very unequally distributed: in the east and north-east of Germany there is less on average than in the west and south. If more than 20 percent of the available water is used by humans, one speaks of water stress. According to experts, then there are problems for the environment and the economy: moors and wetlands can dry out, forests can groan under the drought.
But not only drought can become a problem. The water masses in the Ahr valley and in North Rhine-Westphalia caused a flood disaster two years ago. “Extreme weather events are occurring more and more frequently and presenting municipalities and federal states with major problems,” said Lemke. Therefore, municipalities and federal states will be legally obliged to create hazard and risk maps for heavy rain and to take them into account in development planning.
Too much pollution from pesticides
Another goal of the strategy is clean water in rivers and lakes, because there is a high level of pollution in water from pesticides, microplastics or drug residues. “Sufficient amounts of clean water must always be available everywhere in Germany,” said the Environment Minister.
In order to achieve this, Lemke wants to support the planned EU regulation on extended manufacturer responsibility and introduce it as quickly as possible. Accordingly, the following applies: anyone who manufactures water-polluting products or active ingredients or places them on the market must also do more to eliminate damage in water.
In Germany, the energy sector, mining and industry use a large part of the water to cool their production and power generation plants. It is then often discharged back into rivers or lakes. However, the water heated in the cooling process can cause thermal stress on bodies of water.
Energy sector consumes the most water
According to the Federal Environment Agency, 44.2 percent of the 20 billion cubic meters used throughout Germany in 2019 were in the energy sector. Mining and manufacturing together took 26.8 percent – just as much the public water supply. 2.2 percent was used for sprinkling agricultural land.
According to the Ministry of the Environment, water-related measures in all relevant sectors are now bundled in the national water strategy. This applies to agriculture and nature conservation, administration and transport, urban development and industry. The cabinet then wants to deal with the strategy on Wednesday. This is designed for the period up to 2050 – the first measures are to be implemented gradually in the years up to 2030.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.