ELaN – development of an integrated land management through sustainable water and materials use in north-east Germany

Background and Goals

The starting point for the ELaN joint project is the current practice of draining treated waste water into the surface waters, which means it is lost for landscape irrigation purposes. In view of increasing drought periods, sinking groundwater levels, and the soil nutrition requirements in the Berlin-Brandenburg region the use of treated waste water as an integral part of a sustainable water and land management suggests itself. It stabilizes the regional water balance and contributes to the preservation of valuable wetlands, where biomass can be grown as a commodity and for energy purposes. The plant nutrients in the wastewater can be recovered and would be available as agricultural fertilizers.


The ELaN joint project combines technological innovations in the area of water and nutrient management with organizational innovations for a sustainable land management. In addition to clarifying the political and legal conditions for spraying crops with treated waste water, the main focus lies in boosting added value in the region.

Because the solutions developed concern very different areas, an interaction between various disciplines and perspectives is necessary. Studies are carried out on the topics of "water and material flows", "land use" and "socio-economic management" and introduced under the broader thematic heading of "knowledge integration".

Under the heading of "water and material flows", subprojects are concerned with the technological, hydrological, ecotoxicological and agricultural aspects of the use of treated waste water (clear water) and nutrient recycling. On test plantations, clear water (this is defined as level 3 treated waste water in accordance with the current technologies) is sprayed with the aim of achieving a further water cleaning effect while simultaneously stabilizing the water balance of sensitive areas and optimizing the retention of nutrients and sequestration of pollutants. Possible contamination risks are identified with the help of a meticulous nutrient and pollutant monitoring methodology. In addition to this, priority substances are also monitored in accordance with the water framework directive, as is the presence of anthropogenic micropollutants. Furthermore, nutrients are to be recycled and extracted directly for agricultural use in the course of the waste water treatment.

The central, overarching research questions are:

  •  Are the investigated alternative methods of waste water use hygienic and ecotoxicologically safe?
  •  How can clear water spraying be controlled technically to avoid hygienic and environmental damage?
  •  Do the model solutions lead to a long-term reduction of nutrients and pollutants in the rivers and streams?

The heading of "land use", groups subprojects that are concerned with sustainable fenland cultivation, agricultural energy crops and energy wood cultivation, forms of sustainable land use for marshy, contaminated or clear water treated locations. These subprojects link up with, or are compatible with, the subprojects developed under the theme of "water and material flows". Here, the focus lies on ecological and agricultural optimization. In this way, a web-based expert system will be developed, and the REPRO model will be enhanced and validated. As an innovative and sustainable form of biomass production for commodity or energy use, the cultivation of fast-growing, short-rotation tree species will be investigated and adapted for marshy or contaminated sites.

The essential issues of this theme are:

  •  What forms of sustainable land use can be linked to or continued from the waste water exploitation processes investigated under the header of "water and material flows"?
  •  What synergies exist with energy production, production of renewable resources, carbon capture and sequestration (⁠CCS⁠), nature conservation and tourism that can be better used than hitherto?
  •  What are the differences in the available options in the vicinity of urban areas compared with remote, rural areas?
  •  How can resource (water/energy) and commodity flows between cities and rural areas be sustainably developed while avoiding a problem shift?
  •  How stable are the model solutions with regard to the expected climatic and demographic changes?

The heading "socio-economic management" describes the social and economic basis of the project. The subprojects of economic valuation, property rights and transactions, regional infrastructure policy, and regional planning and governance strategies deal with the institutional framework and management options for an integrated, sustainable use of waste water, nutrients and soil in the two study areas, as well as in the region as a whole. The land use changes proposed in the model and system solutions from the "water and material flows" and "land use" themes will be examined with regard to their cost-effectiveness, legal feasibility, infrastructure requirements and policy planning implementation.

Questions addressed in this theme are:

  •  What organizational forms (economically viable value chains and business operator models) are necessary for the new forms of use to become profitable?
  • How can the necessary economic incentives be improved?
  •  What conditions and interventions (property rights, infrastructure, planning, governance) are needed to improve the relative excellence of the alternative waste water and land use forms, compared with the current, less sustainable forms of use and operational models?

The broad thematic heading of "knowledge integration" acts as an inter-disciplinary and transdisciplinary interface between the other themes and their sub-projects, as well as between the scientific and practical aspects of the project, enabling the integration of the very diverse areas of knowledge and competence. The subprojects constellation analysis, scenario building and sustainability assessment, as well as 3D landscape visualization, integrate the results of the subprojects into area strategies. A consolidation of the results can only be realized if approaches are developed together with the relevant stakeholders from the outset, and if the scientific insights are painstakingly discussed and coordinated with them.

The central questions are:

  •  How can interdisciplinary knowledge integration methods and scenario-based approaches be applied so that balanced and practical solutions are developed, while identifying and avoiding unwanted side-effects?
  •  How can by scientifically validated, participatory processes ensure that the model solutions are socially resilient and employed on a large scale? What methods are suitable or must be newly developed in each case?

Content time


Research area/region

  • Germany
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Baden-Württemberg
  • Berlin
  • Brandenburg
Natural spatial classification
  • North-East German lowland
  • South-Eeastern basin and hills
Spatial resolution 

Barnim, Uckermark

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

No climate scenario defined

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Dry periods

Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

Central climate effects are increasing drought periods and sinking groundwater levels, limiting the water supply.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

The focus lies on the use of treated waste water as an integral part of a sustainable water and land management, by which means the regional water balance can be stabilized and a contribution made to the preservation of valuable wetlands. Although the adaptation to the consequences or effects of the climate change is not in the foreground, the model solutions considered may also be suitable as adaptation measures for dealing with the climate change.

Model solution for the Hobrechtsfelde location as an example of land use in the form of drainage fields: The technological, hygienic, environmental and agricultural issues in using treated waste water (=clear water) for drainage field areas have been answered under the project theme heading "water and material flows". An economic and ecologically sustainable use of clean water has been tested. The quantity of clear water that can be sprayed while keeping the level of groundwater and surface water contamination within acceptable limits, as well as that of the soil of the area, and the extent to which the marshiness of the drainage fields contributes to the stabilization of the pollutants already in the soil, has been clarified. In particular, the contamination risks through priority substances and anthropogenic micropollutants have been investigated. The parameters that need to be investigated prior to the use of clear water are listed in a guideline. The depleted phosphorus reserves have been compensated by recycling phosphorus from the digested sludge of the waste water for use as an external fertilizers. In this way, it has been possible to partially complete the nutrient cycle between the urban and rural areas.

Under the project theme heading  "land use", the alternative agricultural use of former drainage fields will be tested, with particular reference to the ecological and agricultural optimization of different methods (including short-rotation plantations). With the modelling of the material and energy flows, all levels of the production of energy crops will be shown on an operational level (balance per holding), including business structures, production processes, costs, revenues, nitrogen balance, etc., and the portability of this method to state holdings (for instance Berlin forests) will be checked. Which plant species are suitable for which regional marginal yield areas and under what circumstances has been clarified.

Under the heading of  "socio-economic management" the opportunities and risks were set out from an economic, institutional, legal, political, planning, and infrastructural perspective, as well as the conflicts and coalitions of interest resulting from the alternative clear water and changed land use. For the products and services as well as public goods resulting from the new forms of clear water and land use, optimized or new value chains or networks were determined. Corresponding management and operator models were tested and the profitability calculated, while the external effects, e.g. for nature conservation, were also estimated. The questions of which adjustments to the institutional framework are necessary for a wider diffusion of the innovations, the influence they have on regional economic structures and activities, and the transaction costs the stakeholders will have to accommodate in this context, have been clarified. Moreover, statements are available on how the innovative clear water and land use forms can be promoted through the adaptation of existing regional water and energy supply systems and the emergence of new ones. Which political control measures are necessary at the various levels has been clarified, and the model solutions have been agreed from the planning perspective at the community (Panketal), regional, and joint state levels.

During the entire duration of the interdisciplinary project, the acceptance of the model solutions in the region has proceeded under the theme heading of "knowledge integration", through the inclusion of expert practical knowledge. Moderated events were held with stakeholder participation for resolving questions with a particularly high conflict potential. Different possibilities for future clear water and land uses are available in the form of visualized scenarios with sustainability assessments; they have been debated and agreed among the project partners and the regional stakeholders. With the aid of a constellation analysis, it has been possible to reach an agreement on the problem and to integrate the results of the various subprojects and disciplines in the form of model solutions for the area modules. The 3D visualization of future land use forms, which facilitates a careful consideration of the different land use variants, has proven helpful for the coordination processes.

Step 4: Plan and implement measures

Costs of the measures 

The land use changes proposed in the model and system solutions from the "water and material flows" and "land use" themes will be examined with regard to their cost-effectiveness.


Funding / Financing 

Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), funding measure "Sustainable Land Management", part of the BMBF framework programme "Research for Sustainable Development" (FONA)

Project management 

Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF)


– Technische Universität Berlin

–Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS)

– Berliner Wasserbetriebe

– Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

– Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development

– research institute bioactive polymer systems

– Leibniz-Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB)

– German Federal Institute of Hydrology

– Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB) im Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.

– ECT Oekotoxikologie GmbH

– Freie Universität Berlin


Leibniz-Zentrum für Agrarlandschaftsforschung (ZALF) e. V.
Eberswalder Straße 84
D-15374 Müncheberg (Mark)Brandenburg

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Fields of action:
 agriculture  biological diversity  energy infrastructure  soil  spatial planning, urban and settlement development  water regime and water management  woodland and forestry