Background information on the National Water Strategy
A crisis-proof strategy for our water
Water is the basis for all life and an indispensable resource for humans and the environment. However, our water resources are increasingly coming under pressure. The recent summer droughts had devastating impacts on Germany’s forests, agriculture and biodiversity. In March this year, France and Italy reported being affected by winter drought, which may well be a sign of things to come over the course of the year. The flood disaster that struck the Ahr Valley and parts of North Rhine-Westphalia almost two years ago is another example of how destructive extreme weather events can be.
In view of the climate crisis, such weather extremes might become the new normal. At the same time, the German water sector is faced with enormous challenges. In spite of the progress made, there is still a lot to be done in modernising and adapting the sector’s infrastructure and protecting Germany’s water bodies. That is why it is time to take systematic action to ensure sound management of water resources. The Federal Environment Ministry’s National Water Strategy makes a major contribution to this effort.
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.
With the National Water Strategy and its programme of measures, we are laying the foundations for modern water management. We can only protect and restore our water resources more effectively if ecosystems are intact."
The goals of the National Water Strategy
For the first time, the National Water Strategy brings together water-related measures across all relevant sectors: agriculture and nature conservation, administration and transport, urban development and industry. And for the first time, all stakeholders are on board: the federal government, the federal states and municipalities and all economic sectors and groups that use water.
As the strategy is implemented, these stakeholders will work together to restore a semi-natural water regime and make the water sector resilient to climate change. To ensure broad-based support, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV) coordinated the strategy both within the federal government and with the federal states and associations, experts and members of the general public.
Key goals of the National Water Strategy:
- Even 30 years from now and beyond, high-quality and affordable drinking water is readily available at all times everywhere in Germany.
- Water bodies and our groundwater are clean.
- The semi-natural water regime is more resilient and has been restored.
- Wastewater disposal reflects the polluter-pays principle.
- The water supply infrastructure and water use is adapted to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Measures for modern and reliable water infrastructure
The water strategy covers the time period up to 2050. To reach the set goals, it relies on a combination of support, legal regulations, knowledge building and dialogue. For ten strategic issues, it describes how our approach to water can be viable for the future. In addition, there is a programme of measures with around 80 specific measures that will be gradually implemented.
The challenges for water management are diverse and complex. The solutions and options for transitioning to viable water management for the future are similarly complex and interlinked. The strategic issues were intentionally selected to tackle challenges and solutions across sectors and action areas.
Infographic: The ten strategic issues of the National Water Strategy
The path from the strategy to implementation
The first programme of measures will be gradually implemented between now and 2030. The first successes in the implementation of the National Water Strategy are expected to be visible already in the current legislative period. Other ministries will also contribute to these efforts:
- Work has already begun on drawing up a national guideline for dealing with water scarcity. Together with the federal states and in dialogue with stakeholders, a uniform framework for setting priorities in local and regional decision-making will be created. The aim is to ensure that sufficient resources for drinking water are available at all times, as close to the location as possible.
- The implementation of the National Water Strategy is closely interlinked with funds from the Action Plan on Nature-based Solutions for Climate and Biodiversity. This has substantial funding for climate-related measures in water management, water body development and water-smart urban development measures. These funds will be available for implementation in the near future.
- The transformation to water-smart cities is already under way and the federal government is currently supporting municipalities that promote water-smart urban development. The federal government and federal states are working intensively on implementing the White Paper on Urban Greenery. They are developing an action plan for green-blue infrastructure that will incorporate measures from the National Water Strategy to implement the guiding principle of water-smart urban development.
- In dialogue between representatives from agriculture, water management and water conservation initiated jointly by the competent federal ministries, shared guiding principles for water-optimised agriculture will be developed to protect water resources, also in light of the need for adaptation to the climate crisis.
- A national, user group-specific low water level information system (Niedrigwasserinformationssystem, NIWIS) is currently being developed at the Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG). The data, analysis and reporting system will serve as a central, publicly accessible data and information hub for the federal government, federal states and other users and will provide information for planning decisions, etc.
- Water legislation will be further developed in line with the National Water Strategy. To this end, the BMUV is drafting an amendment to the Federal Water Act (WHG) and other water-related regulations.
- The BMUV will commission the development of a water communication strategy this year with the aim of raising public awareness about the use of water as a resource.
The path from dialogue and scientific findings to the draft
The National Water Strategy is the result of intensive discussions with representatives of the federal states, participating associations, NGOs, the scientific community and members of the public in the National Water Dialogue and with the ministries.
The draft of the National Water Strategy was coordinated within the federal government. To this end, the stakeholders were consulted and had until 19 December 2022 to comment with specific input and proposals.
This was preceded by a draft of the Federal Environment Ministry, presented at the 3rd National Water Forum on 8 June 2021. The BMUV’s draft National Water Strategy was based on the results of the two-year National Water Dialogue, which involved more than 200 participants from the water sector, agriculture and research institutions and from associations, the federal states and municipalities. The national citizens’ dialogue on water contributed further ideas and gathered policy demands from the public.
The scientific basis for the draft National Water Strategy was compiled by the Federal Environment Agency as part of a research and development project. It includes information on the status of water bodies, challenges and requirements for water management and water conservation, and water uses in other sectors.