Freshwater - National Responses (Germany)

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Freshwater Freshwater
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German Federal Environment Agency
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German Federal Environment Agency
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Last updated
23 Nov 2010
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CC By 2.5
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German Federal Environment Agency
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 21 Mar 2015 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

The discharge of wastewater from municipalities and industry has fallen considerably in recent years, partly because chemical plants in the new Länder have stopped production, leading to a reduction in discharges into surface waters. In addition, changes to the Federal Water Act required municipal authorities and industry to take measures that led to an overall reduction in emissions from point sources. Improved wastewater purification techniques, the consistent application of state of the art technology and wastewater prevention led to an above-average reduction in pollutant emissions. Improvements in the industrial sector have been particularly evident since the early 1990s when wastewater management regulations came into force. Wastewater-free technologies, such as in pulp and paper production, flue gas purification, vehicle and reusable bottle cleaning, powder coating, and in screen-printing and materials synthesising have done much to reduce pollution. Procedures for recovering raw materials from wastewater and sewage sludge are helping to close materials’ life cycles. In future the main need will be to reduce pollution from agriculture and, where possible, to restore water bodies that have undergone structural change to their natural state.

In Germany the number of connections to wastewater treatment plants is very high:

  • In 2007, 96% of the entire resident population were connected to mains sewers and public wastewater treatment plants.

  • In 2007, a total of some 10.1 billion m³ of wastewater was treated in public plants and then discharged into surface waters. The total number of biological treatment plants has grown steadily, and as early as 2004 accounted for around 98 % of all treatment plants.

  • In 2007, a total of around 1 billion m³ of wastewater was treated in 2 813 in-house treatment plants in the mining and manufacturing industries. In 2004 67 % of this wastewater was purified biologically. Another 24 % went through a chemical or chemical-physical purification stage. Even in 2004 mechanical purification, with a 9 % share, was more or less insignificant. This shows the trend towards more efficient purification.

Alongside the reduction in point-source discharges into water-bodies, a number of measures have been taken in recent decades to reduce diffuse, widespread discharges. Huge efforts have been made to reduce the high nitrogen discharges from agriculture and diffuse pesticide discharges in particular. Even though these have already delivered significant reductions in water pollution, they are still not enough to achieve the aims of the Water Framework Directive – good water quality – everywhere in Germany. These measures therefore need to be continued and, in some cases, intensified.


The aim of the Water Framework Directive, which came into force in 2000, is to achieve good ecological and chemical water status by 2015. A further aim is to achieve concentrations of priority hazardous substances in the marine environment close to the background values for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man-made synthetic substances – out-phasing. In addition to material targets, ecological water quality has also become a focus. Ecological targets are based on the populations of natural organisms in each particular water type and thus also on type-related morphological conditions. Monitoring programmes have been adapted to these new targets, so that biological water monitoring will become much more intensive. Representative data from these monitoring programmes will be available for the first time in 2010.


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