Rising temperatures that increase rates of evaporation combined with more frequent periods of drought are presenting a challenge for water management in several regions of Germany. Water scarcity has become a visible threat observed as record low water levels in rivers and lakes as well as decreasing groundwater levels.
Water resource management is a multi-level policy area. Although there are also regulations at the EU and federal levels, the regulation of surface water, groundwater, and drinking water is mainly managed at state and municipal levels. Water treatment and supply for public and commercial use is often managed by public utilities, although some municipalities have created public-private partnerships or contracted management out to private companies. Water for certain industries, such as energy production and agriculture, is often extracted directly from surface and groundwater rather than from treated sources.
Over the last 25 years, water use has decreased – both commercial and private use has dropped under the 20% threshold of the water exploitation index (an international standard to measure total fresh water abstraction as a percentage of a country’s annual average available renewable fresh water resources). The per capita use of fresh water has dropped from 144 litres per person to 123, including commercial use. However, these indicators are not as useful when considering the strains that climate change impacts cause, due to the smaller geographic and temporal scale of droughts. According to the latest national monitoring report, the data does not show a clear statistical trend for significant reductions in surface and ground water, but water scarcity may become an issue seasonally for certain areas of Germany.
The federal government and many states have recognised a need to act. To ensure the long-term security of water resources, climate adaptation actions are integrated in several sectors, such as landscape planning, urban planning, forestry, and agriculture. Following the National Water Dialog, the Federal Ministry of Environment has announced plans to create a National Water Strategy in 2021 focused on climate change adaptation and water relevant sectors.
The case study in Germany is focused on the state of Thuringia, which has a continuous state action plan for adapting to the impacts of climate change and has anchored adaptation in its Climate Law passed in 2018.