Action 14: Stopping the pollution of rivers and seas

We want to stop the pollution of rivers and seas and to ensure that water quality in this country is impeccable.

Where do we stand?

Although Germany has comparatively high standards, Germany’s water resources are also subject to increasing pressures. For example, 97 per cent of the water in German watercourses did not achieve the ‘good ecological status’ required by the EU. Pollutants, microplastics and pathogens in the water cycle pose a challenge for drinking water purification and wastewater treatment and put a strain on the food webs in rivers and seas. The widespread use of antibiotics in humans and animals has led to an increase in multi-resistant germs that are not fully filtered by sewage treatment plants and are discharged via wastewater first into rivers and then into the sea. This anthropogenic pollution of water endangers the ecological status of waters and seas. This has far-reaching consequences for aquatic food webs and human health, some of which we do not yet know about.

What are the research needs?

The protection of water resources is only possible if we have a better understanding of material flows and processes in the water cycle and of threats arising from human impacts. To do this, we must broaden our perspective. Under the motto ‘From source to estuary’, we want to bring about closer integration of inland water and coastal research and better understand environmental impacts on water cycles, from river basins to the sea.

Implementation steps and milestones

  • We will work with water sector stakeholders to establish resource protection policies and develop methods to prevent pollution at source and safely treat polluted water.
  • Our ‘Clean Water’ initiative sets a key priority in the Federal water programme Wasser: N. Our goal is to strengthen the future of water research and water innovations that are ‘Made in Germany’ from 2020 onwards, thereby securing Germany’s leading-edge role.
  • In 2020, we will present the results of research funding on major sources of pollution and the risks of antibiotic resistance in the water cycle along with initial solutions for prevention measures.
  • From 2021, we will be involved in a European funding initiative on the occurrence of anthropogenic trace substances, pathogens and antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in freshwater and saltwater ecosystems.
  • In 2021, we will publish the results of our research on plastics in the environment. New technologies will be used to investigate the effects of microplastics on the environment, to effectively prevent the entry of microplastics into waterways, and to remove microplastics from the water. At the European level, we will present our findings on the ecological aspects of microplastics in the marine environment in 2024.
  • In 2020, we are funding research at the EU level on the effects of ammunition contamination in the seas.
  • From 2021 onwards, a new research initiative on groundwater will help to tackle the pollution of groundwater with nitrate, phosphate and chemical residues.
  • We will continue to develop the online portal for the correct disposal of medicines (, thus providing citizens with all the information they need on safe and environmentally conscious disposal methods.

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