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Near surface groundwater resources provide plants with water and help build valuable wetland biotopes. Groundwater flows into springs through to the surface and feeds into streams and rivers. Quality and volume of groundwater therefore influence surface waters. More than 70% of drinking water comes from groundwater. Thus it is the most important drinking water resource in Germany.

Legal basis and responsibilities

In accordance with legal requirements of the Federal Government and Länder, and support programmes for the expansion of organic farming, groundwater must be protected from further impurities. In order to test for groundwater contamination, the groundwater must be monitored systematically and regularly. The Länder are responsible for this. Under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), which entered into force in December 2000, far-reaching measures for the further improvement of groundwater quality are planned and have in some cases already been carried out. The WFD calls for groundwater bodies to have a good quantitative status as well as a good chemical status by 2015. The main groundwater provisions can be found in articles 46-53 of the Federal Water Act (Wasserhaushaltsgesetz in German).

Current situation in Germany

Without including regional exceptions, there are no problems in relation to groundwater volumes. Of the total 1,000 groundwater bodies, only 4% have not achieved a "good quantitative status" (Status December 2015).

However, things look different when it comes to the nature of groundwater. The expansion of measurement networks for monitoring groundwater quality has made clear that groundwater is heavily contaminated in many places and that there are a large number of hazards. According to the status of December 2015, 64% of groundwater bodies in Germany have obtained a good chemical status. Diffuse material discharges from industry, agriculture and transport including nitrate and plant protective agents are mainly responsible for groundwater contamination along with limited local pollution such as industrial contaminated sites, abandoned waste deposits, accidents involving substances hazardous to water and sewer leakages. For more detailed information on the subject of groundwater bodies in Germany please use the link "groundwater in the EU".

Measures to improve groundwater quality

  • Improvements in the management of municipal and industrial wastewater e.g. use of new technology, increasing percentage of inhabitants connected
  • In agriculture: e.g. the limiting of application conditions for mineral fertilisers, application bans for pesticides, provision of more targeted information and advice
  • In mining: e.g. constructive measures for leachate collection, integration of wastewater treatment