Germany has a land area of 356,733 km2 and a population of about 80 million. Inland surface waters are subdivided into six major river systems: ie. the Rhine, the Ems, the Weser and the Elbe draining into the North Sea, the Oder river draining into the Baltic Sea, and the Danube flowing off into the Black Sea. Natural lakes are mainly found in the North German Plain and in the Alpine foreland. They cover a total area of 1,213 km2. There is a total of 26 natural lakes with a surface area of more than 10 km2 each. In the north-west, Germany has a coastline to the North Sea and in the north-east to the Baltic.

Administrative structure

Germany is a federation consisting of 16 Länder (or Federal States), each having its own legislation and administration. The Länder are, however, integrated into the Federal Republic as a whole and participate in Federal legislation.

The Federal Government has the right to enact general provisions concerning water resources management. This means that the Federal Government is empowered to specify a general legal framework for the Länder. The Länder then elaborate these general laws by enacting their own laws and supplementary regulations. The Länder are responsible for the administrative enforcement of all the provisions relating to water including Federal laws and consequently the fulfilment of public functions in water resources management. An exception is the Federal waterways, the development and maintenance of which are exclusively under the control and administration of the Federal Government.

The Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Protection and Reactor Safety deals with basic questions of water resources management as well as with transboundary cooperation within the field of water resources management as a part of the environmental policy. The Federal Ministry of the Environment is responsible for provisions concerning water protection of the European Union, the protection of the marine environment and for the river basin commissions of waters crossing national borders. The responsibility for surface water quality monitoring is rests by the Länder.

Water quality monitoring in Germany aims at;

  • preventing the potential danger to human health,
  • assessing the impact of anthropogenic substances on aquatic ecosystems,
  • documenting the present state of water pollution,
  • showing the efficiency of water protection measures by means of emission values.


Monitoring of inland surface waters


Each of the 16 Länder has its own inland surface water monitoring programmes. These programmes have Länder specific aims, defined in accordance with common objectives of the Joint Commission of Federal States (LAWA). The common objectives are:

  • Long-term trend monitoring
  • Monitoring as a tool in planning and management
  • Checking up on the fulfilment of water quality demands and the response to utilization
  • Monitoring of critical loads (Alarm networks, waterbodies in a critical state). The surface water quality monitoring programme (1993) for Nordrhein-Westphalen, for instance, consists of four networks (LAWA, 1995):
  • a trend network including 90 sampling sites with a sampling frequency of 13 annual samples and measurement of an extensive number of variables (general physical, chemical, biological and microbiological variables, heavy metals, radioactivity determinands and organic micropollutants), some of them also being measured in the sediment or in suspended matter.
  • an intensive network including 250 sampling sites with a sampling frequency exceeding 1 annual sample and measurement of a number of variables (general physical and chemical variables, nutrients and specific ions)
  • a basic network including 3,500 sampling sites with a sampling frequency of 2 annual samples every five years and measurement of general physical and chemical variables.
  • an alarm network including 13 sampling sites with continuous measurements of basic variables and automated measurements of nutrients and organic micropollutants including pesticides.

Also a monitoring programme assessing the biological state of rivers exists. Results from these monitoring programmes are published in annual reports.

At present, national reporting of Länder results is limited. Every five years the LAWA prepares a status report in which the water quality of inland surface waters is classified according to seven categories based on biological variables (R2).

To ensure standard evaluation of flowing waters throughout the Federal Republic of Germany, the quality categories used correspond to the criteria published by the German Industrial Standard (DIN) 38410 (part I+II). The biological classification map is based on local evaluation of the river quality by each Länder after which the map is put out at the national level.

R1, a national monitoring programme covering rivers is also based on the information collected by the Länder with the objective of determining environmental state and trends. The monitoring network consists of 146 sampling sites mainly situated in large rivers. At some sampling sites, variables such as temperature, pH, conductivity and dissolved oxygen are measured continuously, while other variables such as organic pollution indicators, nutrients and heavy metals are measured at fortnightly or monthly intervals. The results of the network are published by the LAWA every 5 years.

Transboundary waterbodies

In Germany integrated management of transboundary water courses lies within the framework of international commissions as for entire river basins, and as far as waters forming the border to other countries are concerned management is regulated according to bilateral agreements. Germany is a member of:

  • the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine against Pollution
  • the International Commission for the Protection of the Elbe
  • the International Commissions for the Protection of the Moselle and the Saar against pollution
  • the International Commission for the Protection of Lake Constance
  • the Interational Commission for the Protection of the Danube, and has close relations with the neighbouring states regarding waters crossing its frontier. The International Commission for the Protection of the Oder is expected to be signed in 1995.



A national monitoring programme of the environmental state of lakes does not exists. Monitoring of lakes is done under the authority of the 16 Länder.


Marine waters

Monitoring of German coastal waters is undertaken by the individual Länder, while monitoring of open marine waters is undertaken by federal institutes. The activities are coordinated by the ARGE Bund/Länder Messprogramm.

The aim of the marine monitoring programmes is to evaluate:

  • possible health risk from contaminated fish, mussels and shrimps
  • the effect of antrophogenic substances on the ecosystem (effect monitoring)
  • long-term effect of emission reduction (trend monitoring).

The North Sea

At the national level, data collection aimed at assessing the environmental condition of the North Sea is undertaken according to the Bund/Länder Messprogramm (M1) and at the international level according to the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) of the Oslo and Paris Commissions (OSPARCOM). At sampling sites in estuarine and coastal areas as well as open marine waters measurement of general chemical and physical variables plus organic micropollutants and heavy metals in water, sediment and biota are carried out.

Table 3.6: German national surface water monitoring programmes.

No. Name Responsible institution Variables Period of operation & Sampling Frequency (SF) Geographical
Data &
Rivers and streams
R1 Überwachungsprogramm der Länderarbeitsgemeinschaft Wasser (LAWA) FS, LAWA (UB for data collection) Physical & chemical variables. Since 1982
SF: 13/yr
146 sampling sites
Report every 5 yrs:LAWA
R2 Biological classification of the quality of inland surface waters (rivers) LAWA Biological:
Since 1975
SF: once within 5 yrs
Nation-wide Database: no national database
Report every 5 yrs:LAWA
Coastal and marine areas
M1 Bund/Länder-Messprogramm für die Nordsee ARGE Physical, chemical and biological variables Since 1980
SF: 1-4/yr
53 sampling sites in the North Sea Database:
Report: ARGE
M2 Bund/Länder-Messprogramm für die Ostsee ARGE Physical, chemical and biological variables SF: 5-11/yr Baltic Sea and Baltic Proper Database: MUDAB
Report: IOW

FS: Federal States (Länder); LAWA: Joint Water Commission of the Federal States (‘Länderarbeitsgemeinschaft Wasser’); UB: Umweltbundesamt; ARGE: Bund/Länder-Messprogram Committee, Federal Ministry of the Environment; MUDAB: Marine data base (Meeresumwelt Datenbank); QUADAWA: River Water Database (‘Qualitätsdatenbank Wasser’); IOW: Institut für Ostseeforschung, Warnemünde.

The Baltic Sea

Monitoring of the Baltic is done on national level according to the Bund/Länder Messprogramm (M2) and internationally according to the Baltic Monitoring Programme (BMP) of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM). A number of sites in estuarine and coastal areas are sampled up to 11 times a year with measurements of physical, chemical and biological variables, including organic micropollutants and heavy metals.

A number of off-shore sites are sampled 5 times a year, measuring physical, chemical and biological determinands.


Geographic coverage


Filed under:
Filed under: surface water
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