The federal government wants to systematically ensure that water is used as a resource. In order to guarantee the drinking water supply in Germany and to protect the groundwater, the cabinet has therefore decided on a national water strategy. Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) presented the draft.
After the cabinet meeting, the Greens politician said she wanted to ensure that "in the future, every citizen can get affordable, clean water from the tap at any time." "That means we need to prepare for the changes brought about by the climate crisis." This includes, for example, protection against flood events, heavy rain, but also against heat. In the future, municipalities and states will be legally obliged to create hazard and risk maps for heavy rain and to take them into account in development planning.
The natural water supply in the Federal Republic is very unequally distributed: According to the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), ten to twenty times more water is available in the mountainous regions of southern Germany than in dry Brandenburg.
Regional and seasonal differences
"Although there is no water stress on average in Germany," writes the UBA, "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.
Specifically, the national water strategy includes an action program with around 80 measures to modernize water management. This also includes bringing water from Germany's wet regions to dry areas using interconnected networks and long-distance pipelines. The first long-distance lines already exist, for example in Stuttgart or Hesse.
Who gets (no) drinking water when there is a water shortage?
All of this raises the question of priorities in the event of a water shortage. "For me, supplying the population with drinking water, should a shortage occur, is clearly the priority," said the Minister for the Environment. "But of course there are other water users who then have to be supplied." For example hospitals, schools or kindergartens. Together with the federal states, guidelines are now to be developed as to what the usage claims would look like in cases of water shortage.
According to the Federal Environment Agency, the energy sector accounted for 44.2 percent of the 20 billion cubic meters used throughout Germany in 2019. Mining and manufacturing together took 26.8 percent - just as much the public water supply. 2.2 percent was used for sprinkling agricultural land.
The Federal Association of Energy and Water Management (BDEW) calls for the priority for drinking water to be worked out even more clearly in the water strategy. "So supplying the population with drinking water for human consumption must always come first when using drinking water resources," said Managing Director Martin Weyand. "More transparency in all types of water use is also essential." It must be clear how much water is used in which area in order to identify and avoid conflicts of use at an early stage.