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No. 025/10 | Berlin, 26.02.2010

Reform of environmental law takes effect: new Acts enter into force on 1 March 2010

Federal Nature Conservation Act and Federal Water Act create uniform legal basis

The new Federal Nature Conservation Act and the Federal Water Act will enter into force on 1 March 2010. With this step, a nationwide statutory basis applies which harmonises nature conservation and water legislation at a high level. The previous framework legislation is repealed. Owing to constitutional amendments, these Acts are now the binding basis for action for citizens and the work of the enforcement authorities in the Länder. For the reorganisation of the nature conservation and water legislation the Federal Government used successful provisions at the Länder level as models in many cases. The new Consolidation of Laws Act for the environment for the first time envisages the regulation of environmental impact assessments for certain water management and forestry projects at the national level.

The UN has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. The new Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) fits into this very well as it considers the conservation of biological diversity the most important goal of nature conservation legislation. The Act was designed to protect the diversity of species, habitats and the genetic diversity of individual species of plants and animals and to counteract threats to natural and near-natural eco-systems. For the first time, nationwide directly applicable provisions are introduced for the overall protection of wild animals and plants as well as for controlling and combating invasive species.

The BNatSchG aims to enhance acceptance, as evident from the regulations governing landscape planning. At the local level, the drawing up of plans is envisaged to be cause-related rather than mandatory. Provisions governing interventions in nature and landscape have been made more flexible to facilitate practical application. Compensation measures can now be carried out in the respective natural areas, which cover an average area of four to five districts. It is also made very clear that particularly suitable agricultural land may only be used to the necessary extent.

The new Federal Water Act (WHG) puts nationwide uniform requirements in place for the first time for the management of surface and coastal waters and for ground water. Another novelty of this Act is that it contains provisions on the principles of public water supply and the protection of medicinal springs.

The regulations on the management of surface waters are supplemented with provisions concerning minimum water flow, passability, use of hydro power and riparian zones. These provisions achieve a balance between the use and the protection of water bodies. For example, adequate measures for the protection of fish populations are necessary for the future use of hydropower. In future it is prohibited to turn grassland into arable land in riparian zones which measure 5 metres in breadth. The same applies to the removal of site-indigenous trees and bushes, the use of substances hazardous to water and the permanent depositing of items that may hinder water runoff or which may be carried away by the water.

The legal framework for flood control, which had been significantly extended by the Flood Control Act of 2005, has been developed into comprehensive regulations. At the same time, the EU Directive on the assessment and management of flood risks has been transposed into German law.

The main provisions of the two key elements of the reform of environmental law adopted by both Bundestag and Bundesrat six month ago - the new Federal Nature Conservation Act and the Federal Water Act - will enter into force on 1 March 2010. Commenting on the new right of the Länder to derogate, the Federal Environment Ministry stated: "The government has done its share. Now it is up to the Länder to adjust their own provisions to the new legal situation. This requires a sense of proportion. The aim of the federal reform of facilitating a nationwide uniform and efficient nature conservation and water policy must not be undermined."

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