German government lays foundations for modern water management

Steffi Lemke
The Federal Cabinet has adopted the National Water Strategy. In light of the noticeable impacts of the climate crisis, this strategy will usher in a new era of water transition.

Federal Cabinet adopts National Water Strategy

Today, the Federal Cabinet adopted the National Water Strategy. In light of the already noticeable impacts of the climate crisis, this strategy will usher in a new era of water transition and step up the pace of transformation in the water sector. With this strategy, the federal government aims to protect Germany’s natural water reserves, take precautionary measures to prevent water scarcity, avoid conflicts of use, tackle the backlog in modernising the water infrastructure and improve the status of water bodies and water quality. With the 78 measures proposed in the strategy’s programme of measures, the German government is holding itself and all stakeholders accountable for ensuring sustainable water management by 2050.

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke remarked: "Water is vital for our survival. We must do everything in our power to protect our water – for current and future generations. Germany, like our neighbours, faces considerable challenges. The impacts of the climate crisis on humans and nature compel us to take action. The recent years of drought have clearly left their mark on our forests, lakes, rivers and agriculture. Extreme weather events are occurring with greater frequency and pose major problems for municipalities and the federal states. The issue of water pollution is also far from resolved, despite many success stories. We are pursuing a clear goal with our National Water Strategy: clean water must always be available in sufficient quantities everywhere in Germany. To achieve this goal, our groundwater, lakes, streams and rivers must be cleaner, and we must adapt our infrastructure, land use and urban development to the impacts of the climate crisis and store water better in the landscape."

The National Water Strategy looks at the challenges of the water sector in Germany up to the year 2050. It is broken down into ten strategic issues that chart the course for the next 30 years and describe the required goals and measures. Precautionary measures as a public service are at the core of the strategy. All members of the general public must be able to rely on safe, affordable and efficient water supply and wastewater disposal systems now and in the future. The National Water Strategy also focuses on precautionary measures for plants and animals. Healthy water bodies and a functioning water regime are key requirements for preserving the diversity of our flora and fauna. This links the National Water Strategy to the Action Plan on Nature-based Solutions for Biodiversity and Climate. However, the strategy also addresses the importance of a safe and reliable water supply and the high quality of our water bodies as an economic factor. We must prevent water from becoming a limiting factor for regional development.

"With the National Water Strategy and its programme of measures, we are now laying the foundations for modern water management. We can only protect and restore our water resources more effectively if ecosystems are intact. To successfully reach this goal, the federal government, federal states and municipalities are joining forces with research institutions, civil society and the water sector. Clean water is a collective undertaking," said Minister Lemke.

A comprehensive programme of measures rounds out the draft of the National Water Strategy. The plan is to gradually implement the 78 measures by 2030. The measures include:

  • Expand the data basis, improve forecasting capability: federal and federal state authorities must be able to predict more accurately where water will be available in the future and where it will be needed. More data, forecasts and scenarios will enable predictions to be made about which regions could experience water shortages. The German government supports research and development of forecasting tools and scenarios.
  • Develop a guideline for handling water scarcity: a guideline will be developed in a participatory process between the federal government and the federal states that will create a uniform framework for setting priorities in local and regional decision-making. The aim, in particular, is to ensure that sufficient resources for drinking water are available at all times, as close to the location as possible.
  • Establish uniform nationwide guidelines for regional water supply plans: a uniform nationwide framework will be developed together with the federal states to support them in drawing up regional water supply plans at the level of the federal state or catchment area.
  • Establish supraregional water infrastructure: the water use plans will serve as the basis for identifying needs for infrastructure spanning federal states and supraregional infrastructure throughout the country. It can then be assessed whether the necessary areas for infrastructure spanning federal states and supraregional infrastructure – such as long-distance water pipeline corridors – can be included in the federal state plans and in a federal spatial development plan. In future, however, infrastructure planning must be guided by the principle of water supply that is as local as possible.
  • The German government will launch a national programme on climate measures in water management and water body development as part of the Action Plan on Nature-based Solutions for Biodiversity and Climate.
  • Build water-smart cities: together with the municipalities and relevant associations, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV), the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building (BMWSB) and the federal states are developing a concept for water-smart urban development ("sponge city"). The existing technical guidelines will be reviewed to determine whether they contribute to the preservation of the natural water regime, climate adaptation and urban nature, and will be revised where necessary.

Modernising the water sector and adapting to climate change will require large investments with a tremendous need for financing. Through its programmes, the German government helps meet this need by participating directly in financing and by further developing or creating financing instruments. The strategy thus contains a combination of proposals in these areas.

The National Water Strategy is based on the results of the two-year National Water Dialogue. More than 300 participants from the water sector, agriculture, research, associations, the federal states and municipalities joined the BMUV in this framework to compile the most important challenges and goals for the development of water management. The national citizens’ dialogue on water contributed further ideas and gathered policy demands from the public.

15.03.2023 | Press release No. 038/23 | Water & Waste & Soil

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