UBA presents study on water management consequences of brown coal phase-out in Lausitz region

UBA President: "We hope that our study will provide the federal states with helpful food for thought for their own solution options."

A canal in the Spreewald forestClick to enlarge
A canal in the Spreewald forest: coal exit poses major challenges
Source: THL / stock.adobe.com

On 3 July 2023, the German Environment Agency (UBA) once again discussed the key findings of its study on the water management consequences of the brown coal phase-out in the Lausitz region with more than 120 experts from the federal government, the federal states, academia and civil society. This brings to an end a project that has lasted more than two years and is the prelude to a structural change in water management in the affected states of Saxony, Brandenburg and Berlin. UBA President Dirk Messner said: "My impression is that the states are tackling the major challenges with a great deal of commitment and very innovative ideas. We hope that our study has been able to identify helpful approaches and initial solution options. The federal states on the ground know best which, if any, of our proposals can be implemented in a modified and locally adapted way."

The legislated phase-out of opencast brown coal mining in the Lausitz region will have major consequences for water management as far away as Berlin. This is because to enable coal mining, the companies pumped almost 60 billion cubic meters of groundwater into the Spree River during the many decades of active mining. This water will be lacking in the future. According to an UBA⁠ study, in dry summer months this could lead to up to 75 percent less water in the Spree locally – with corresponding consequences also for the Spreewald, its lakes and canals, and the drinking water supply in the Berlin region.

The new UBA study has compiled information from over 150 stakeholders and produced an initial surface water assessment. It is using this to examine the possible consequences of the brown coal phase-out for water management in the region from an overall perspective. The study is thus the first systematic and comprehensive examination of the water management consequences of brown coal mining in the Lausitz coalfield. From the UBA's point of view, the study therefore forms a basis for further and more in-depth investigations and coordination by and between the federal states.

In order to cope with the challenges mentioned regarding water quantity and water quality, the federal states of Saxony, Brandenburg and Berlin will coordinate their management, because this requires detailed knowledge of the conditions on site and diverse management decisions, which have to be adapted to ⁠climate change and increasing water demands.

The federal states of Saxony, Brandenburg and Berlin have already initiated several projects that will build on the findings of the UBA study. In order to decide on the feasibility of measures, the impact on river basins and other uses as well as legal responsibilities must also be considered.


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