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Global Economy

Is the water strategy too late?

The district of Steinfurt in North Rhine-Westphalia has banned the removal of water from surface water. The water association WSE in Brandenburg prescribes a cap on water consumption for new contracts. Although the forecasts for climate change are known, Jörg Drewes is still surprised: "I would not have expected the consequences so quickly, with such drama and frequency," says the head of the chair for urban water management at the Technical University of Munich.

Drewes deals with how municipalities and cities organize their water supply well and warns that Germany must change course. He sees it as a generational task. It takes enormous resources, "because we have extremely sluggish systems in the water infrastructure. We can't quickly adapt them overnight."

Digitization of the water supply

It starts with the pipes through which the drinking water flows and continues with the data. Who uses how much water is usually still read by hand on the water meter and recorded on paper slips. The Federal Environment Ministry agrees that this must change. At the request of tagesschau.de, the ministry writes that Germany needs more clarity about how water volumes and water requirements are developing.

These are just two of many construction sites. A national water strategy by the federal government should set the course for how these can be tackled. A year ago, in June 2021, the then Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, SPD, presented a draft. It is based on a two-year dialogue with 200 participants from water management, research, agriculture, associations and federal states.

National water strategy should be through the cabinet by December

But the previous government of Union and SPD could not finally agree. There was too much argument in the federal government too often, says the CDU member of the Bundestag and Union parliamentary group leader Steffen Bilger self-critically. In addition, the draft was only ready shortly before the federal elections.

"It is all the more regrettable that the current federal government has not managed to use the many months since the federal elections to form a government to bring the vote within the federal government to an end," adds Bilger. Environment Minister Steffi Lemke from the Greens has announced that the water strategy should go through the cabinet by the end of the year. Bilger thinks it's too late.

Germany is hardly prepared for the climate crisis

Drewes criticizes that the effects of the climate crisis and the development have been known for a long time: "In this respect, one could have wished that the initiative had picked up speed a little earlier." Germany hardly seems prepared for the effects of the climate crisis on the water supply.

In addition, many measures cannot be implemented overnight. Environment Minister Lemke thinks it is important, for example, that more rainwater stays in the landscape and seeps into the groundwater. Instead of quickly draining into rivers and further into the sea. In the medium and long term, it is the best way to "store the water in nature so that we have it available as a precautionary measure," says the Greens politician in the ARD morning show.

Conservation projects: Keeping more water in the landscape

This is to be promoted in the action program for natural climate protection. Lemke wants to present a draft in September. Due to the long lead times, most funding programs will only be able to start gradually after 2023 and 2024, the ministry explains. The environmental policy spokesman for the Greens in the Bundestag, Jan-Niclas Gesenhues, defends this. With four billion euros, there is a lot of money in the action program, which must be thoroughly prepared.

Who has priority when it comes to water supply?

Green politician Gesenhues also wants to regulate the question of who will be supplied with water first in the event of a crisis. "When we have such times of water scarcity, priority must be given to the public water supply," says Gesenhues.

The public water supply is responsible for around 20 percent of the water volume withdrawn. Industry takes a little more than 20 percent. The energy suppliers need – for example for cooling – even more, namely about half of Germany's annual water requirements.

"In the interest of all of us"

CDU politician Bilger says there should be no opposition. The drinking water supply has top priority. But many other areas would not waste water either. "If power plants have to be cooled, then that is in all of our interests. If agriculture needs water to grow food regionally, then that is also in all of our interests," says Bilger.

Time is short, important decisions must be made. At the same time, the situation in Germany is still significantly better than in other European countries. There is no general water emergency. So there is no reason to panic at the moment, or as Lemke puts it: "No one has to stop showering now."

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