Latest Update: September 2023

Abstraction of water for the extraction of natural resources

The abstraction of ground and surface water may be necessary during the extraction and further processing of natural resources. The volumes of water abstracted in Germany for the activities of the natural resources extractive sector are published by the Federal Office of Statistics based on the data of the responsible statistical authorities of the Federal States.1 An overview is shown in chart 8.
The mining and quarrying sector abstracted a total of 1,289 million of m³ of water in 2019 (mainly groundwater). Coal mining accounted for around 75% of this volume. This corresponds to around 6.5% of all water withdrawn by industry in Germany in 20192. Depending on the regional importance of the natural resources sector – especially coal mining – the proportion is higher in some Federal States (in some cases more than 50%)3.

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 mined by means of drilling and blasting in the underground mining of potash and rock salt. 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 extracted when the brine evaporates.

Use of water

During the initial development of a deposit of natural resources, the pumping out of groundwater 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, if necessary, treated, purified, seeps away or, if applicable, reused, e. g. to maintain 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 Federal State in 2019 (in thousands of m³)

Source: Federal Statistical Office, own representation

Legal framework for water abstraction

The Water Resources Act that came into force in 1960 dictates that water can only be abstracted from the groundwater and surface water if a permit has been granted in which this usage has been regulated in terms of the nature and quantity of usage. An EU-wide legal framework for the protection of water and groundwater was created in 2000 with the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) of 23 October 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 principle4. 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. Overall, the Federal States are left to regulate the water abstraction fees.

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 out of 16 Federal States. In Hesse, Bavaria, and Thuringia no water abstraction charges are currently levied. The total revenue in the 2022 budgetary plans of the Federal States was estimated at around €454 million. These revenues are partly used for water management tasks, or they flow into the general budget of the respective Federal State5.

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 function 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). In most Federal States, levy rates differ according to the type of abstraction, volume, origin of the water (surface water or groundwater) 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

Quite different rates are levied nationwide for the abstraction of water in the natural resources sector. For example, fees of between 1 and 6 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 Federal States, the fees for groundwater abstraction can range from 5 to 18 cents/m³.6
In some Federal States, including Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein, on the other hand, groundwater excavation is exempt from water abstraction charges. 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 water laws or ordinances of the Federal States. The German Federal Environment Agency provides an overview of the relevant fee levy rates in the natural resources sector7. 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 in all Federal States. Reports on this are regularly given to the State Parliament in North Rhine-Westphalia.
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, most payments lie below the materiality threshold agreed in the D-EITI, which is why they are not disclosed as a payment flow in the D-EITI report. Where companies in the extractive sector have reported water abstraction charges above the materiality threshold of €100,000, these can be found in the BilRUG payment reports.8


In Federal States in which legislation does not include an excavation law and the State-level Nature Conservation Law does not apply to the extraction of non-energetic, ground-based natural resources in the context of dry excavations, this type of natural resource extraction falls within the scope of the relevant state building regulations.

Legal limitations also exist: State building regulations apply to the excavation of solid rock (limestone, basalt, etc.), for example, in quarries with an area of up to 10 hectares (ha) in which no blasting is carried out. In the event that this area is exceeded, or if water bodies are formed after completion of the extraction operations, the German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) and/or Water Resources Act (WHG) are applicable.
In Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, the above-ground excavation of non-energetic, ground-based natural resources in the context of dry excavations is determined at state level by the existing excavation laws (AbgrG). For the excavation of solid rock (limestone, basalt, etc.) in quarries where blasting does not occur, the AbgrG applies to sites with an area of up to 10 ha. In the event that this area is exceeded, or if water bodies are formed after completion of the extraction operations, the German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) and/or Water Resources Act (WHG) are applicable. In the other Federal States, this type of natural resources extraction is regulated by the respective state building regulations or by the state-level nature conservation laws.

In general, the AbgrG applies to those raw materials the excavation of which is not directly subject to mining law or the mining authorities. These raw materials include (in particular) gravel, sand, clay, loam, limestone, dolomite and other rocks, bog mud and clays. However, the jurisdiction between AbgrG and mining law can vary from case to case in the case of certain raw materials, such as quartz gravels. The requested authority must always verify its own jurisdiction in each case. The AbgrG also encompasses surface area usage and the subsequent rehabilitation of the area.
The German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) is the most important and practice-relevant law in the field of environmental law. It constitutes the basis for the approval of industrial and commercial installations. In the natural resources extraction industry, quarrying companies must have approval to extract stones and earth. Every quarrying area of 10 hectares or more must undergo a full approval procedure, including public participation and UVP (environmental impact assessment). A more simplified approval procedure is used for quarrying areas of less than 10 hectares.

The sphere of responsibility for the legal immission control approval procedure is fully specified in the Immission Control Acts of the Federal States. The Federal States are tasked with the administrative enforcement of the approval procedure. Each individual state’s Environment Ministry – the highest local immission protection authority – usually bears the responsibility for this procedure. Subordinate authorities include regional councils, district authorities and lower-level administrative authorities. Administrative jurisdiction generally lies with the lower-level administrative authorities.
The GDP measures the value of goods and services produced domestically (creation of value) within a given period (quarter, year). The Federal Office of Statistics calculates the GDP as follows: production value minus intermediate consumption = the gross value added; plus taxes on products and minus subsidies = GDP
The gross value added is calculated by deducting intermediate consumption from the production values, so it only includes the value added created during the production process. The gross value added is valued at manufacturing prices, i.e. without the taxes due (product taxes), but including the product subsidies received.

During the transition from gross value added (at manufacturing prices) to GDP, the net taxes (product taxes less product subsidies) are added globally to arrive at an assessment of the GDP at market prices’. Source: Destatis
The planning approval procedure under mining law is used for the approval procedure of a general operating plan for projects which require an environmental impact assessment (§§ 52(2a), in conjunction with 57 a of the BBergG).
There are different definitions and methodological approaches at the international as well as at the national level as to what subsidies are and how they are calculated. According to the definition of the German government’s subsidy report, this report considers federal subsidies for private companies and economic sectors (ie grants as cash payments and tax breaks as special tax exemptions) which are relevant to the budget. Subsidies at the federal level can be viewed via the subsidy reports of the federal states (see Appendix 5 of the German government subsidy report).
In compliance with § 68(1), Water Resources Act (WHG), the excavation of landowners’ natural resources such as gravel, sand, marl, clay, loam, peat and stone in wet extraction operations requires a planning approval procedure. The reason for this is that groundwater is exposed in wet extraction, resulting in above-ground water. The planning approval procedure is implemented by lower-level water authorities.

The procedural steps of the planning approval procedure are governed by the general provisions of §§ 72 to 78 of the Administrative Procedures Act (VerwVfG). Within the meaning of § 68(3), nos. 1 and 2 of the WHG, the plan may only be established or approved if an impairment of the common good is not to be expected and other requirements of the WHG as well as other public-law provisions are fulfilled.