Securing the drinking water supply and protecting groundwater are core objectives of the National Water Strategy, which is to be adopted by the Cabinet this Wednesday and which is available to the FAZ. By 2050, water management is to be adapted to the consequences of climate change and a near-natural water balance is to be restored. "The consequences of the climate crisis for people and nature force us to act," warned Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens).

Katja Gelinsky

Business correspondent in Berlin

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With the National Water Strategy, the Federal Government will lay the foundations for modern water management. This is to be achieved through a mix of legal regulations, state funding, knowledge development and dialogue. An action programme lists almost 80 measures to be taken gradually over the next few years up to 2030. The Water Strategy covers all sectors and brings together all state actors, water management and all water-using sectors and groups.

In order to secure the drinking water supply, the Federal Environment Ministry intends to focus more on risk management. This corresponds to the risk-based approach of the new EU Drinking Water Directive. Possible risks to the quality of drinking water are to be assessed and appropriate risk management measures developed and applied. This risk-based approach should cover the entire supply chain from the catchment area through abstraction, treatment and storage to the distribution of water.

Regional water shortage

Securing drinking water is one of the short-term measures to be launched by 2025. Work has already begun on developing nationwide guidelines in the event that drinking water becomes scarce in certain regions and the authorities then have to decide who is allowed to use water as a priority. Together with the federal states, the federal government also wants to evaluate where interconnected networks and pipelines are needed to compensate for regional differences in water availability.

According to the Ministry of the Environment, there is no nationwide water shortage in Germany so far. However, one observes "clear regional deficits". Compared to the period 1961 to 1990, renewable water resources would have decreased by an average of 1991 billion cubic meters between 2020 and 12. Most water is used for energy supply (more than 44 percent), followed by manufacturing and public water supply (just under 27 percent each) and agriculture with just over 2 percent.

Due to climate change, however, if the currently cultivated crops are maintained, a significant increase in the water demand of agriculture is to be expected, according to the water strategy. For North Rhine-Westphalia, an increase of 20 times by the end of the century is predicted, for the northeast of Lower Saxony by 30 percent; the groundwater would then no longer be sufficient.

Risks from heavy rain

At the same time, climate change increases the risks of heavy rain and flooding. For this reason, municipalities and federal states are to be legally obliged in future to draw up hazard and risk maps for heavy rain and to take them into account in construction planning. In order to protect the population from extreme events such as droughts or floods, the water infrastructure must be modernized, according to the strategy. This requires "considerable investment" not only in the pipeline network, but also in coastal protection or urban planning.

What the water strategy will cost, can not be quantified at present, said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of the environment. In any case, the federal government will not be able to shoulder the additional expenditure alone. The annual per capita expenditure on water supply and sanitation in Germany has been just under 300 euros in recent years, according to calculations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). By 2030, additional investment costs of around 25 percent will be necessary to meet obligations under the EU drinking water and wastewater directives. Among other things, the Ministry of the Environment plans to use funds from the Natural Climate Action Programme, for which four billion euros are available until 2026. "Only with intact ecosystems can we better protect and restore our water resources," warns Lemke.

Economy threatens higher burden

In the medium term, the economy and agriculture are likely to face higher costs to protect water resources. Instead of imposing sewage charges only on households, the strategy calls for a "fair distribution of costs" in the future. In order to finance better sewage treatment plants, for example, the wastewater levy is to be reformed and supplemented by a trace substance tax. In addition, the nationwide introduction of charges for water withdrawal is being examined.

According to the ministry spokesperson, important financial contributions could be achieved through the envisaged EU regulation on extended producer responsibility. According to this, anyone who manufactures or places water-damaging products and active substances on the market must also make a greater contribution to repairing damage to waters.