A firefighter in Lauenau taps water from a fire enginePhoto: Moritz Frankenberg / dpa
In principle, the problem can be described in one sentence: At the top, at least Georg Hudalla says, just as much flows in as always - but clearly more flows out below than usual.
The Lower Saxony community of Lauenau in the Schaumburg district has been in the headlines of the local media for days. This is due to the fact that drinking water has recently become seriously scarce. On the hottest days of the year, such news causes a stir. Outside almost 40 degrees and inside just a rattle from the tap, nobody likes to imagine that.
But exactly this situation threatened - and in principle still threatens - the 4,000 inhabitants of the Lauenau area southwest of Hanover. Even though some of them are also partly responsible for this.
"With very few exceptions, water could always be taken," asserts Hudalla, the non-party mayor of the Rodenberg community, supported by the CDU, in an interview with SPIEGEL. He used to be in the banking business, later as a househusband father of five children. Now he is also in demand as a water manager until the end of his term in office next year.
"We have had very high water consumption since the middle of the week."
Georg Hudalla, Mayor of the municipality of Rodenberg
The three elevated tanks for the Lauenau water supply have meanwhile been completely empty, he describes. "We have had very high water consumption since the middle of the week." Something is happening in Lauenau that is happening in a very similar way in many other parts of Germany: In the course of the corona pandemic, people do not spend their holidays elsewhere in the distance, but at home. And that's where they use water. Much water.
Pool manufacturers are happy
"A great many are on vacation, but not away," says Mayor Hudalla. In the specific case that means: You are in the garden. But on hot days like now, not only the lawn, flowers and vegetables need to be watered there. More and more people have also got their own pool. And it wants to be filled.
The company Riviera Pool from Geeste in the Emsland region recently reported massive increases in sales. Business with so-called compact pools developed particularly well. These are small swimming pools of around two by four meters at a price of 15,000 to 20,000 euros. Almost twice as many of these are currently being ordered as usual.
Two by four meters - with a water depth of one and a half meters, that's 12,000 liters of water.
Specific figures are not given
The dream of having your own pool in order to have at least something pleasant in the annoying Corona year - this is one of the reasons why the water in Lauenau has recently become so scarce that the fire brigade had to bring service water with tankers to public delivery points in the municipality. So that there was still something there, for example to flush the toilet.
The more or less cool water in the fire brigade's tanks, says the mayor, comes from the sewage treatment plant or from the small stream in the village. It can be used as service water, but not as drinking water. In the meantime, residents should buy this in the supermarket.
In the meantime, significantly less drinking water is being taken from the network, says Hudalla. "We have reduced the consumption peaks to a third." Therefore, there are currently no supply bottlenecks.
Temperature display in the courtyard of the volunteer fire brigade in LauenauPhoto: Moritz Frankenberg / dpa
How many cubic meters were and will be used, what amount of water is currently in the storage tanks, the municipality prefers not to put a concrete figure. Perhaps also out of fear that, in the face of concrete numbers, people might be able to build up a few more supplies for fear of water scarcity - better safe than sorry. This would increase the total consumption again.
Three elevated tanks, all of them empty
Lauenau's drinking water comes from the Deister, a wooded mountain area up to 400 meters high. Three wells on the western side of the area collect the rainwater that comes from layers of the forest floor near the surface. Of course, there is less in summer than, for example, when the snow melts. But in principle this is the case every year.
The water flows from the well into three elevated tanks. And in the end they were empty. Now they are slowly filling up again because the people of the place have temporarily restricted their water consumption. The fact that consumption is currently only a third will change again, says Hudalla. "We won't hold out." The long-term goal is to halve water consumption.
Fire brigade warned by loudspeaker
How did you succeed in convincing people to save water? With loudspeaker announcements by the fire brigade, with requests from the administration on the radio and through the rural bush radio in a personal conversation: "The silent post works."
In fact, during the current heatwave, water suppliers have asked their customers in some other places in Germany to use drinking water sparingly. Because there is no precipitation and at the same time a lot is consumed, the drinking water tanks in Nieder-Beerbach in the district of Darmstadt-Dieburg in southern Hesse, for example, ran empty. In Merenberg in central Hesse in the Limburg-Weilburg district, those responsible are warning of an "alarming water shortage". And the suppliers in Kronberg, Oberursel and Steinbach have switched their "drinking water traffic lights" from yellow to red.
New strategies for water management needed
In the short term, the problems will possibly - as in Lauenau - be solved by forcing people to change their behavior in the most affected places and regions. Perhaps fines that are already legally possible for the largest water wasters can also make a contribution. But in the long term, experts say, new strategies are needed for water management in Germany.
For decades, people have worked to get water out of the ground as quickly as possible. But now it has to be a matter of keeping it in the landscape and giving more space to flowing waters, recently declared the German Federal Environment Foundation.Icon: The mirror