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 extractive sector are published by the relevant statistical authorities of the individual Federal States.1 An overview is shown in the graphic below.
The “Mining and Quarrying” sector abstracted a total of 1,466 million m³ of water in 2016 (mainly ground- water). 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 2016.2 Depending on the regional im- portance of the extractive sector – particularly coal mining – the proportion is higher in some Federal 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 sump and mine water is treated in compliance with the permit conditions, purified, re-infiltrated, reused (if necessary), e. g. to maintain wetland biotopes, or discharged into surface water without further use.

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 2016 (in 1,000s of m³)

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.

In the underground mining of potash and rock salt, raw salt is usually extracted by means of drilling and blasting. However, salt can also be extracted in a brine plant, where 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 Resources Act (Wasserhaushaltsgesetz), which came into force in 1960, stipulates that water may only be extracted from groundwater and surface waters if there is a permit regulating this use in a manner that is specific in terms of type and extent. An EU-wide legal framework for the protection of water and groundwater was created in 2000 with the Water Framework Directive (EU) 2000/60/EC of October 23, 2000 (WRRL). 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.3 Water abstractions must also be checked for compli- ance 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 also determine the amount of water abstraction charges, if such charges are levied by the Federal States.

Structuring of water abstraction fees

The structuring of fees for water abstraction is carried out by the Federal States that receive these fees. This is why water abstraction fees levied in Germany differ widely in 13 of the 16 Federal States, the three exceptions being Hesse, Bavaria and Thuringia. The total revenue in the 2018 budgetary plans of the Federal States was estimated at around €417 million. These revenues are partly used for water management tasks, or they flow into the general budget of the respective Federal State.4
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 ser- vices” for the utilisation of resources and can there- fore 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).5
In most Federal 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, and these may also apply to the natural resources sector.

Water abstraction fees in the natural resources sector