Deiti logo
German Commodities Sector /


Abstraction of water for the extraction of natural resources

The abstraction of ground and surface water may be necessary during the course of the extraction and further processing of natural resources. The volumes of water abstracted for the activities of the natural resources extractive sector are published by the relevant statistical authorities of the individual Federal States. 4 An overview is shown in Figure 4.

The ‘Mining and Quarrying’ sector abstracted a total of 1,583 million m³ of water in 2013 (mainly groundwater). Coal mining accounted for around 75% of this volume. This corresponds to around 5 % of the total water abstracted in Germany by industry and private households in 2013. 5 Depending on the regional importance of the natural resources sector – particularly coal mining – this proportion is higher in some states than in others (up to 30 % in individual cases).

Use of water

During the initial development of a deposit of raw materials, the pumping out of ground water can lead to a lowering of the groundwater level. Water abstractions during extraction of the natural resources may also be necessary e.g. to keep shafts or excavation pits dry. This so-called drainage and mine water is treated, purified and then used as cooling water, provided to the public as drinking and industrial water, used as water for the protection and maintenance of moist biotopes, or introduced into surface water without being used further.

The use of water by the mining industry is associated with consequences for the water balance. Environmental impacts can result from, among other causes, the change in the groundwater level, the flow rate of water bodies and the introduction of drainage and mine water into surface waters.

Water abstraction in the natural resources sector by state in 2013 (in 1,000s of m³)
KAchel Wasser_Bild

Example: Use of water in potash and rock salt mining

In potash and rock salt mining, water from different origins and of different quality levels including river water, groundwater and drinking water is used in many processes. Raw salt is generally mined by means of drilling and blasting in the underground mining of potash and rock salt. However, salt can also be obtained in a sol operation during which fresh water is introduced into soluble (salt) rock by means of a borehole, resulting in the creation of chambers filled with salt water. The salt-saturated water (so-called brine) is then conveyed to the surface via another pipeline. The salt is ultimately extracted when the brine evaporates.

Legal framework for water abstraction

The Water Framework Directive (WRRL) created an EU-wide legal framework for the protection of water and groundwater in 2000. The WRRL stipulates (inter alia) that the costs of water services (including certain water abstractions) and environmental and resource-related costs are covered by the polluter-pays principle 6 Water abstractions must also be checked for compliance with the general environment targets of the WRRL. If the volume of ground or surface water abstracted exceeds certain thresholds, environmental impact assessments must be carried out for the projects concerned.

The implementation of the WRRL into national law took place in Germany through the Water Resources Act, which regulates the protection and use of surface and groundwater at national level. Water abstraction procedures are subject to the reservation on the granting of permission by the water authorities. The water laws of the Federal States supplement and concretise the federal water laws. They particularly determine the amount of water abstraction fees.

Structuring of water abstraction fees

The structuring of fees for water abstraction is carried out by the states that receive these fees. This is why water abstraction fees levied in Germany differ widely in 13 of the 16 states, the three exceptions being Hesse, Bavaria and Thuringia. The total revenue in the 2016 budgetary plans of the states was estimated at around €425 million. These revenues are partly used for water management tasks, or they flow into the general budget of the respective Federal State. 7 .

Most Federal States levy consumption-related fees for the abstraction of ground and surface water. Depending on the individual structure, these fees are also intended to reflect the ‘value of the public services’ for the utilisation of resources and can therefore act as incentive taxes for a sustainable water management programme and for the allocation of environmental and resource costs (§ 1 and § 6a of the Water Resources Act) 8 .

In most German states, levy rates differ according to the type of abstraction, volume, origin of the water (surface water or ground water) and the purpose for which the water is to be used. There are also various state-specific deviations from the relevant rules through exemptions or discounts, which may also apply to the natural resources sector.

Water abstraction fees in the natural resources sector

Very different rates are levied nationwide for the abstraction of water in the natural resources sector. For example, fees of between 0.3 and 5 €cents/litre for surface water are applied in some Federal States for certain types of mining operations (e.g. in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), while in other states, the fees for groundwater abstraction apply ranging between 5 and 31 €cents/litre. 9 In Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein, however, groundwater exposure is exempt from water abstraction fees. In some Federal States, there are explicit regulations for dewatering operations in mines, or for water that is reintroduced into surface waters without being subsequently used. The various fee levy rates, exemptions and discount rules are published in the individual state water laws. The German Federal Environment Agency provides an overview of the relevant fee levy rates in the natural resources sector. 10 However, a publicly-accessible source of information on the amount of revenue from water abstraction fees paid by the natural resources sector does not exist.

Water abstraction fees represent a flow of cash between companies that extract natural resources and the German State. Due to the different levy rates (inter alia) in individual Federal States, the payments probably lie below the materiality threshold, which is why they are not included for payment reconciliation purposes in the first D-EITI report.

4 Source: Federal Office of Statistics, National Environmental Accounting

5 In some Federal States, a distinction is made between the following two sectors: 1. Ores, quarried natural resources, other mining products and 2. Coal, peat, oil and natural gas; e.g. Saxony State Office of Statistics (2013): Water supply and waste water disposal in the operations of the non-public sector in the Free State of Saxony,

6 In its ruling of September 11, 2014 (file ref. C-525/12), the European Court of Justice (ECJ) confirmed that with these federal and state regulations, Germany had sufficiently implemented the principle of cost recovery from the EU Water Framework Directive. The ECJ also expressly points out that in accordance with the provisions of Article 9(4) of this directive, the EU Member States are in any case empowered not to apply the cost-covering principle to certain water uses, while addressing the purposes and objectives of the directive.

7 IHK Pfalz 2013 Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Palatinate: The water abstraction fees of the German states. A comparison.

8 Gawel/Bretschneider (2016): Water abstraction fees in Baden-Württemberg – Inventory and Evaluation. Schutz_natuerlicher_Lebensgrundlagen/Wasser/Rechtsvorschriften/WEE/160630_Endbericht_WEE_UFZ.pdf

9 German Federal Environment Agency (2017): Table of water abstraction fees in the natural resources sector in German states.

10 See