BGR Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe

Groundwater resources in Germany

Groundwater resources and aquifer types in GermanyFig. 1: Distribution of aquifers in Germany Source: BGR

In Germany, groundwater is a vital and essential resource. It is the sole source of water supply for over two-third of the population. However, groundwater use has decreased in the last years, because of more efficient water use. According to the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), the groundwater extraction (including springs) for public supply has dropped from 4.79 km³ in 1990 down to 3.50 km³ in 2013.

Besides the 3.50 km³ groundwater used for public water supply in 2013, further 1.23 km³ were extracted for mining, 0.73 km³ for manufacturing, 0.24 km³ for agriculture, forestry and fishing, 0.10 km³ for electricity production and 0.12 km³ for the remaining industrial sectors. The total groundwater volume extracted of 5.91 km³ in 2013 represents approximately 12 % of the annual groundwater recharge in Germany, which has been estimated at 48.2 km³ (average water balance for the period 1961 – 1990).

Groundwater extractions vary considerably between German federal states (see Table 1). Public water supply in Bremen, Hamburg, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein relays exclusively on groundwater (100 %), followed by Brandenburg (96 %), Bavaria (89 %), Lower Saxony (88 %), Hesse (87 %), as well as Rhineland-Palatinate with 85 % and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern with 84 % groundwater rate. Due to large surface water volumes mainly stored in dams, in Saxony only 27 % and in Thuringia only 56 % of the water supply is covered by groundwater. In Berlin, public water supply depends 72 % on river bank filtration and artificial groundwater recharge.

In absolute figures, Bavaria extracts the most with an annual extracted volume (groundwater including spring water) of 0.76 km³ followed by North Rhine-Westphalia (0.48 km³), Lower Saxony (0.47 km³) and Baden-Württemberg (0.46 km³) (see Table 1).

Due to the hydrogeological situation in Germany, the groundwater occurrence is irregular throughout the country. Figure 1 shows its distribution according to the aquifer type. Some 49 % of the country has porous aquifers, partly with high yields. About 12 % is made of fractured aquifers and some 6 % karst aquifers. Approximately one-third of the country has only local aquifers with low potential.

The largest area with a continuous high yielding aquifer is located in the North German Lowlands, composed mainly by deposits from different ice ages having deposited thick layers of sand and gravel. Particularly important are those aquifers formed in buried valleys or along deeper paleo-channels of the last glaciation. The Tertiary and Quaternary deposits at the Alpine Forelands are also important widespread porous aquifers. Further, thick and partly superposed high yielding porous aquifers in the Upper Rhine Graben and the Lower Rhine Lowlands represent one of the largest groundwater occurrences in Germany.

Groundwater resources of local importance are found in the mid mountain ranges, especially in the limestones of the Swabian and Franconian Jurassic as well as Thuringia, in the lacustrine limestones between the river Main and the Black Forest, in the carbonate deposits in eastern Westphalia (karst aquifer), in the sandstones of the Palatine Forest, Black Forest, Spessart and Solling, and last but not least the basalts of the Volgelsberg (fractured aquifer).

The mid mountain ranges like the Rhenish Slate Mountains, the Harz, Thuringian and Bavarian Forest, Erzgebirge and Black Forest are generally characterized as low yielding aquifers and composed mainly of shales, crystalline schist and plutonic rocks. However, here some sandy deposits in the valleys and the foothills constitute local aquifers that can be used for water supply.

Contact 1:

Prof. Dr. Thomas Himmelsbach
Phone: +49-(0)511-643-3794
Fax: +49-(0)511-643-2304

Contact 2:

Dr. Jörg Reichling
Phone: +49-(0)511-643-2366, Mobil: 0151-11717161
Fax: +49-(0)511-643-532366

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