Clean drinking water is a matter of course for many in Germany. To ensure that this remains the case in the future, active water protection must also be practiced here.
Around the world, 80 percent of all wastewater is discharged into the environment without being treated. This is because in many regions there is no sewage system, let alone sewage treatment plants. Not only do many creatures suffer from this, it also leads to contamination of our groundwater. This is our livelihood for the future, which must be protected at all costs - also in Germany. If we do not succeed in protecting water and climate protection, we will soon feel the consequences in the form of water shortages.
How can it be that we are short of water?
We live on a blue planet and yet many regions are already struggling with water shortages. That's because just under 2.5 percent of global water supplies are freshwater. Most of this, in turn, is unusable because it lies in the cold regions in the form of glaciers and ice. Our most important source of water is therefore our groundwater.
"Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water, but only 3 percent is potable."
How clean is the groundwater in Germany at the moment?
In Germany, we have been struggling with severe groundwater pollution for decades. The EU Commission reports that Germany does not do enough water protection and has a nitrate problem, which is primarily due to heavy fertilization in industrial agriculture. In the past, the miserable readings in Germany even prompted the European Court of Justice to sue Germany because of the high nitrate levels in groundwater : Germany would not comply with the EU guidelines for the protection of water supplies , it was said. For years, too little has been done against the contamination of groundwater supplies.
The extent to which the nitrate in groundwater makes us ill has not yet been conclusively clarified. However, researchers already know that nitrates are converted into nitrites through a chemical process, which small children and people with previous illnesses cannot process well. Another consequence is that the groundwater has to be thoroughly treated and cleaned. This will also be reflected in drinking water prices in the future.
"In the past 20 years, Germany has lost 670 million liters of groundwater."
Will we have less groundwater due to climate change?
In the past 20 years, Germany has lost 670 million liters of groundwater. This corresponds to the amount of water in Lake Constance. One of the main causes is climate change: higher temperatures lead to more evaporation. Streams and ponds dry up in summer, springs and lakes suffer from the extreme heat. Active water protection is necessary to ensure that we continue to have a good supply of groundwater in the future.
"Currently, fossil and nuclear power plants are the largest water consumers in Germany."
What does water protection mean in Germany?
There are various levers to protect our groundwater. The biggest ones are of course in industry and agriculture: the heavy fertilization of the fields has to be regulated in order not to further increase the nitrate content. In agriculture in particular, we must also consider resource-saving irrigation solutions so that we can react more intelligently to extreme heat as a result of climate change.
When we talk about water protection, energy supply also plays a major role. Fossil and nuclear power plants are currently the largest water consumers in Germany: The generation of one kilowatt hour of electricity in a coal or nuclear power plant uses two to three liters of water. The water from the surrounding rivers and lakes is also used in the power plants for cooling. However, if the water temperature in the rivers rises as a result of climate change and reaches a certain point, the power plants are no longer allowed to take cooling water and accordingly have to reduce or completely stop operations. If there is a lack of cooling water, it can lead to energy shortages. However, if we succeed in switching to renewable energies, we will also protect our water resources. Researchers estimate that the conversion of the energy system will result in a significant reduction in cooling water withdrawals: by 2050, this should be reduced by 70 percent. The lakes and rivers could recover as a result.
Water protection in everyday life: How can we protect water in the home?
When it comes to water protection, not only does industry play a major role, but also end consumers. With simple tricks we can protect water in the household:
- The toilet is not a waste bin: hygiene items, diapers, wet wipes or cotton pads clog the house pipes and the sewage system. In the worst case, these things put pumps in the sewage treatment plant out of operation.
- Chemical cleaning agents contaminate the water: paints and varnishes should not end up in the drain. When it comes to cleaning products, there are now many environmentally friendly alternatives that do not pollute our water and are less difficult to degrade.
- Food leftovers and oils do not belong in the drain: Pour the fat from the deep fryer into the sink? D rather not! This not only clogs the sewage system, it also attracts rats, which often transmit infectious diseases.
- Medicines end up in the household waste: Tablets, capsules, ointments or liquid medicines are usually difficult to break down. Many of the active ingredients contained therein cannot be removed even by the most modern sewage treatment plants. This is how they get into the water cycle and pollute the environment and the living beings in our waters.
Let's question the status quo, show attitude and change the world. Every action we take can have a positive impact on our lives and our environment. Together we can make a difference.
Text by: Ronja Ebeling