Joint press release by the German Environment Agency and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection

Only ten percent of Germany’s water ecologically intact, despite progress made

Lake with reed belt and jettyClick to enlarge
The EU Water Framework Directive prescribes good status of all water bodies by 2027.
Source: Friedberg /

Once every six years plans for improving the condition of water bodies in Germany are published in a brochure. At the present time, only slightly less than ten percent of rivers, lakes and coastal waters are in good ecological condition. Although this is a slight improvement over 2015, Germany still faces major challenges. On the positive side, chemical pollution in groundwater has declined slightly overall. However, one in five groundwater bodies in Germany is still assessed as poor due to excessive nitrate levels, mainly from agriculture. Overall, the status of many water bodies has improved in individual aspects in recent years. They are nevertheless not yet in good condition. According to the EU Water Framework Directive, water bodies should be "good" in terms of chemistry, ecology and - in the case of groundwater – also in terms of available quantity by 2027.

Federal Environment Minister Lemke emphasised the relevance of the ambitious goals of water pollution control in Europe: “The fish die-off in the Oder river is unmistakable proof of how excessive the burden our use of water bodies is. The climate crisis is exacerbating pollution. We must therefore reassess how much we can afford to tax our water bodies in times of climate crisis, heat, and low water levels. To secure our water resources in the future in the face of heat waves and droughts and to keep water in the landscape, we need healthy and resilient water bodies and renaturation. A Federal Government National Water Strategy and the action programme Natural Climate Protection are essential for this purpose.”

UBA President Dirk Messner says water body protection faces two major problems: “Excessive nutrient and pollutant inputs and the relentless development of water bodies over the past decades are the main problems our water bodies suffer from. Too many nutrients find their way from the fields into the river from where they enter the groundwater. Too many substances harmful to water bodies are also still being discharged via sewage treatment plants." UBA supports the plans of Germany’s 16 federal states to expand or build new sewage treatment plants along a quarter of the water bodies and thereby optimise them ecologically. Switching to organic farming, optimised and reduced fertiliser use and measures at the sources of chemical inputs could also help to reduce inputs of substances harmful to water bodies from the outset.

The forecasts on the development of the water status indicate that the objectives of the Water Framework Directive will not be achieved by 2027 either. UBA President Dirk Messner is therefore calling for more speed and ambition in water protection: "In the coming years it will be important to implement the many planned measures at federal, Land and municipal level swiftly. It will require the mobilisation of enough personnel and financial resources.”

Further information:

The German Environment Agency (UBA) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUV) transmitted all required data for a joint report. The data delivered by the Länder was submitted to the EU Commission by the required deadline. The brochure "The Water Framework Directive. Water Bodies in Germany 2021. Progress and Challenges" contains all the data on the status of water bodies in Germany in 2021. It describes pressures and the improvements that have been achieved in recent years. It also shows the measures that are necessary to ensure that our water bodies provide habitats for diverse species and that sufficient clean water is also available for everyone in the long term. The brochure (in German) can be downloaded free of charge here.

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