Water supply and sanitation in Germany

The urban water management in Germany is characterized by, among other features in comparison to other industrialized countries:

  • Low water consumption per capita: 121 liters / capita / day (2010 ) compared to 165 in France and more than 260 in the U.S.
  • High degree of tertiary wastewater treatment: 94 % of urban wastewater is clarified according to the strictest EU standards, including nutrient removal, compared to France (36 percent) and England / Wales (39 per cent) and
  • Very low conduction losses of only 7 % compared to 19 % in England and Wales, 26 % in France and 29 % in Italy.
  • High water prices: the charge per cubic meter are in Germany, together with those in Denmark, the highest compared among the 16 industrialized countries. However, the average water bill is not higher than in other countries due to the lower water consumption in Germany.

The responsibility for public drinking water supply and sanitation lies with the municipalities under the supervision of the federal states. Organizations play an important role. As in other Member States of the EU policies are set in large part by the EU. In recent decades, there is a trend away from directing companies towards private-sector municipal enterprises.

  • 6.1 Water losses
  • 6.2 benchmarking
  • 7.1 cartel proceedings against excessive water prices
  • 7.2 Comparison of water prices and charges 7.2.1 Comparison between German cities
  • 7.2.2 International comparison

Access to water and sanitation

More than 99 % of the population in Germany are connected to a drinking water network. The remaining portion is self-powered through wells. 93 % of the population are connected to the public sewage disposal.

Domestic water consumption

About 80 % of the public drinking water consumption can be attributed to the domestic consumption and small businesses. The remaining portion related to industrial plants that are supplied by the public network ( 14%), and other users ( 6%).

The water consumption in Germany is the second lowest among 14 European countries. He is only a fraction of the water consumed in North America. Despite forecasts of increasing consumption of water, consumption fell from 145 liters actually per capita per day in 1990 to 121 liters per capita per day in 2010. During the same period, the water supply has declined by 26%. This represents a reduction of 1.75 billion m3. Low water consumption has a negative impact on the operation of systems, the health and the environment. As for the operation of wastewater systems, potable water must be fed into the sewer to prevent the stagnation of waste water occasionally. Negative health effects are possible because drinking water slowly flows into the line, allowing recontamination in the distribution network is likely. Under construction viewpoint, the lower extraction of groundwater in damage to the foundation of buildings may be due to a high water table (refer to water consumption).

Water resources and public drinking water supply

Water in Germany is generally not scarce, apart from occasional localized drought. Public drinking water utilities found in only 2.7 percent of the renewable water resources in Germany, or 5.1 billion cubic meters of 188 billion cubic meters, which are long-term average annual available. Overall, the annual water withdrawal of all water users together is 32.3 billion cubic meters ( about 17 percent ). About 83 percent of the available water resources are not used.

The public drinking water supply draws its water from the following sources:

  • 65 % groundwater
  • 9 % Sources
  • 5% by bank filtration
  • 21% from surface water

Service quality

The service quality of the drinking water supply in Germany is usually good. The supply is continuously in most cases, under suitable pressure and the distributed water of high quality. The provisions of the EU Drinking Water Directive are complied with. The entire wastewater collected is cleared. 94 % of urban wastewater is clarified according to the strictest EU standards, including nutrient removal. This proportion is far higher than in France (36 percent) or in England and Wales (39 per cent).

Responsibility for water and sanitation

Direct responsibility

The public drinking water supply and sanitation in Germany is the responsibility of the municipalities. Municipalities may in turn delegate this responsibility to local owner-operated, auto-enterprises, public-private partnerships or syndicates. In Germany there are more than 6,000 public drinking water utilities and approximately 6,000 wastewater disposal. For most it is Regiebetriebe smaller communities. In contrast to the electricity and gas market, which is largely managed by private companies, the water supply in Germany is home to more than 90 % in municipal ownership.

Drinking water supply

Among the 1,266 major drinking water utilities about 15 % are owner-operated; 16 % special purpose associations; 63 % own companies that are either in the public, mixed or private ownership. 6% of water utilities are water and soil associations. Only 3.5% of water utilities are privately owned (there are no data available on the proportion of firms in mixed ownership, an increasingly common form of property). Many water utilities are companies that also offer electricity, gas and / or district heating and achieve the majority of their sales in these areas.


During the same company is responsible for drinking water supply, sewage disposal and stormwater management, in some cases, water is managed in the same community from different providers in most cases. Unlike the drinking water supply, sanitation in Germany is a sovereign core responsibility of the municipalities. This implies that sanitation is exempt from VAT and business tax and corporation tax. It also means that only public companies can be responsible for the sanitation and stormwater management. Most municipalities operate therefore the sanitation and stormwater management directly in the form of directed operations. Less than 10% of the wastewater disposal are municipal enterprises with independent legal personality. However, the municipalities or the local municipal enterprises can conclude management contracts with private companies. Among the 900 largest waste disposal companies about 10% of operator contracts for the operation of the sewer system have been completed. 12 % have completed operating agreements on the operation of sewage treatment plants.

Examples of utilities

Berlin Water Works. The Berlin Water Works ( BWB ), a subsidiary of the holding Berlin water, are an example of a semi-public company that is owned by the State of Berlin ( 50.1 percent), the energy provider RWE and the private French water company Veolia Environnement. It supplies 3.5 million people with water and disposed of the sewage of 3.9 million people.

Lake Constance Water Supply. The Lake Constance Water Supply ( BWV ) is a special purpose association was established in 1954 with headquarters in Stuttgart to meet the water demand in many communities the water-poor Swabian Alb and in the Stuttgart area. Today, it supplies one of the largest German long-distance water supplies about four million people in some 320 cities and communities in many parts of Baden -Württemberg directly or indirectly with drinking water from Lake Constance. The coverage area extends from Lake Constance in the south to Bad Mergentheim and Tauberbischofsheim in the north of the country.

Bremen. Swb AG, the successor to the Stadtwerke Bremen, supplied through its subsidiaries, the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven with drinking water, wastewater disposal via the hanseWasser Bremen GmbH.

DREWAG. DREWAG, Stadtwerke Dresden GmbH, provides electricity, natural gas, water and district heating. Share on your own are through intermediate holding companies ultimately 90% of the city of Dresden and 10% Thüga AG.

Gelsenkirchen water. One of the largest purely private water companies in Germany is Gelsenwasser AG, a utility company that provides, among other 3.2 million residents in North Rhine -Westphalia with water and gas and disposed of their waste water. This is done in the context of franchise agreements with 39 municipalities.

Hamburg water. Founded in 2006, Hamburg water supplies more than 2 million people with water and disposed of their waste water. It includes the Hamburg Waterworks GmbH ( HWW ) and the Hamburg water (HSE ) public institution.

Country's water supply. The country's water supply ( LW ) is a municipal purpose association in Baden- Württemberg. The company, based in Stuttgart was founded in 1912 and is one of the largest long-distance water supply in Germany. It supplies about 3 million inhabitants in approximately 250 communities in northeastern Baden -Württemberg, among others, with water from the Danube. The largest cities in the supply area are Aalen, Esslingen, Göppingen, Heidenheim, Ludwigsburg, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Stuttgart and Ulm.

Mainova. An example of a large public equity company that offers several different infrastructure services, Mainova AG in Frankfurt am Main, water, electricity, gas and district heating is providing.

Rhein Energie AG. The Rhein Energie AG powered Cologne and Cologne surrounding communities with electricity and water. It is 80 % owned by the city's own GEW Köln AG and 20% owned by the RWE Group.

Stadtwerke München. Like the Mainova provide Stadtwerke München GmbH provides water, electricity, gas and district heating.

Water boards. Water associations in North Rhine -Westphalia, including the Ruhr Association and the Wupperverband operate sewage treatment plants, dams and measuring systems for water quality and water levels. These products are considered to corporations under public law, which are borne by the member municipalities and have been created each due to a state law.

Responsibility for setting policy frameworks and regulation

The responsibility for setting policy frameworks and regulation of water supply and sanitation in Germany is common to the EU, the Bundestag and the Länder parliaments. The EU determines the legal framework for water quality and water management.

The organization of the public drinking water supply and sanitation, however, remains the responsibility of the Member States. In particular, the European legislator does not dictate whether the sewage has to be made public or private law. The countries play a key role in deciding whether the municipalities incumbent upon disposal of sewage may be transferred to legal persons of private law. Set including the legal framework for the approval of water and wastewater prices. Communities exert indirect influence on policy making by their associations ( the German Association of Cities and the Association of Towns and Municipalities ).

Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, in Germany there are no autonomous regulatory agencies for water and wastewater. The Federal Network Agency is responsible for the regulation of telecommunications, postal services, electricity, gas and rail transport, but not for drinking water supply and sanitation, their regulation is the responsibility of the states.

Water prices charged by companies are regulated by the provincial authorities, usually by acting as a regional cartel country's economic ministries. This can be done by an independent public accountant after examination of the application. The direct action of local municipal utilities or municipalities water and sewage fees, however, are not subject to direct supervision of the countries, but defined by the municipalities, which are in turn regulated in the last instance by the state interior ministries. While the antitrust laws to permit the economic ministries to push for lower water prices, the municipal supervision is the interior ministries of the countries no tool with which to intervene to reduce water and wastewater charges in local self-government. In Hesse are of 399 water utilities, only 47 companies raise prices, while 352 municipal enterprises are which charge fees. The great cities of Hessen are, however, supplied exclusively by own companies.

In city-states such as Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen, the Senator for Economics, both in his role as chairman of the utility company the application for fee increase and reviewed and approved by him in his role as a Senator for Economics, which obviously means a conflict of interest. In the case of some private companies (such as Gelsenkirchen water) to decide disputes concerning the increase of fees by a mutually agreed arbitrator due created by auditors opinion.

The drinking water quality is monitored by utilities themselves and from the health authorities of municipalities and counties.


Business and professional associations also play a significant role in the associational autonomy. There are currently six organizations in the field of water and sanitation. Among them are two business organizations, the Federal Association of Energy and Water Industries ( BDEW ) and the Association of Municipal Utilities (VKU ); two technical-scientific associations, the German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste ( DWA ) and the German Association for Gas and Water (DVGW ); and two specialized subregions associations, the ATT for dams and the DBVW for water and soil associations. In particular, the two technical-scientific associations play an important role in the development of technical standards and in educational work and - more recently - in benchmarking. The skilled workers and master training, and ongoing education and training are the tasks of the DWA and the DVGW.

Development in the new federal states

In the GDR, the water sector was divided into 15 water and wastewater utilities (VEB WAB), whose coverage area corresponded in each case a district of the GDR. With the reunification of the VEBs were transferred into 660 municipal utilities ( municipal ownership ). At the same time were often oversized equipment, in particular sewage treatment plants, created so that the new municipal enterprises could hardly bear the costs and cost were barely viable. In addition to that in the first euphoria of reunification the West German wastewater model was adopted without changes. Instead of working on low-cost yet effective decentralized wastewater treatment processes, centralized process were built with miles of trunk sewers. According to an analysis of the Association of Citizens ' Initiatives for Environmental Protection ( BBU) the planning errors were due to the fact that some aufschwatzten West German engineering the unsuspecting mayors overpriced and not very proper equipment for water supply and sanitation.

All these reasons together meant that emerged in the most sparsely populated countries East German plants that are not economical to operate and consumers burdened with disproportionate contributions and fees. According to the BBU politicians, experts and citizens are now faced with the paradoxical situation that the water and wastewater associations are too small in many cases, the systems were designed but often much too large. It makes sense it would have been according to the BBU to install a decentralized hardware, but the software is centrally vorzuhalten. This would have decentralized or semi - decentralized systems means that would have been but centrally managed by larger water and wastewater associations with a lot of know -how and qualified personnel and controlled - at the highest level of participation opportunities and transparency for consumers.

Recent developments: liberalization and modernization debate

In 2000, commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Economics study commissioned encouraged the liberalization of the drinking water supply and the competition between neighboring utilities in analogy to electricity and telecommunications sector. The proposal met with strong criticism, including by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA ) and the local government associations, feared the negative consequences for health and the environment. The liberalization proposal was not pursued. However, the number of public-private partnerships increased and the trend towards the creation of local own company in private sector legal form continues.

In response to the liberalization debate, the Bundestag passed at the request of the SPD and the Greens in 2001 a decision on sustainable water management. The decision rejected the liberalization of the water sector, but recommended the amalgamation of smaller utilities, higher competitiveness and a general modernization of the sector, including through systematic benchmarking. In 2005, the six relevant associations adopted a decision by which the benchmarking should be funded on the basis of a method of the International Water Association.


Water losses

Water losses in the distribution system were estimated to be only 7 % in 2001 compared to 11 % in 1991. According to a given from the BGW -commissioned study, the corresponding losses in England and Wales amounted to 19%, in France 26% and Italy 29%. Thus, the loss of water in Germany is not only the lowest among these four countries, but also the lowest in the world. The study claims that their methodology allows an accurate comparison, among other things, that the water used was eliminated in all comparison countries from the losses as fire water and to clean the lines. This corresponds to the limits established by the International Water Association definition of non revenue water.


Benchmarking has long been used by German utilities, but not in a systematic and comprehensive manner. 1998 organized by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research together with the economic research institute RWI and 14 utilities an ideas competition to reduce the cost of water and sanitation. In this framework, criteria for evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the utilities have been developed. Participating companies report that their operating costs have decreased by two to three years by about 5 %. DVGW and DWA have jointly developed a voluntary benchmarking system on a confidential basis. The associations describe the system to be extremely successful.

German utilities have not been involved in international benchmarking studies such as the International Benchmarking Network IB- Net, which makes its results available to the public. IB- Net, which was launched by the World Bank, has been mainly data from utilities from developing countries.

Rates and Fees

According to the law ( local tax laws or operating laws of the states) the prices and charges for water and wastewater in Germany must cover the full cost of the provision and disposal, including the re- acquisition value of investments and the return on equity. Unlike in many other countries ( for example, in England and Wales or in Chile ) the relevant laws do not provide for review of the efficiency of investment and operation, as part of the approval process for pricing and fee adjustments. There is talk of prices in the provision by privately organized municipal enterprises and of fees for the provision by public law organized municipal municipal enterprises.

Antitrust proceedings against excessive water prices

Hesse is the first federal state in the history of the Federal Republic of procedure in May 2007 against his view, excessive water prices. The country's Ministry of Economic Affairs, Alois Riehl (CDU ) was a study in which the water prices were compared in selected Hessian cities with water prices in cities outside of Hesse. Based on the results of the study possessed the Ministry that the city-owned company in Wetzlar, Frankfurt and Kassel would have to reduce their water prices by up to 37 percent. The company filed a lawsuit against the injunction, but lost both before the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt as well as in February 2010 before the Federal Court. The Association of Municipal Utilities (VKU ) noted that the price differences due to the different local conditions declared. In its reasoning, the court said that the "sharp sword of scrutiny should not be dull by excessive demands are made of the similarity of the comparison companies ." Saxony -Anhalt subsequently announced to investigate the water prices are also more accurate. The Hessian Minister of Economics Dieter Posch (FDP) spoke of a " great victory for consumers " who had " signal effect on Hesse addition ". The Federal Association of Energy and Water Industries ( BDEW) criticized the decision would lead to " massive uncertainty" and adjust the economic operation " part of the question ." The association announced a " customer balance " could by itself " understand in a clear way ", "how make up these companies, the price of the different services ." In September 2010, the Hessian of Cities asked in a letter to Prime Minister Volker Bouffier, to introduce further antitrust decrees. In addition, the association threatened a nationwide conversion of prices in fees in order to evade the antitrust enforcement. Subsequently, it was reported that the state audit is now instead of the Ministry of Economy examine the cost structure of water providers in Frankfurt and Kassel. The antitrust case would be for the time being not pursued.

Comparison of water prices and charges

Water rates and charges can be compared in two ways: in the form of monthly bill for a particular use or per cubic meter. There is also independent of consumption fees, which varies greatly depending on the company, the comparison of monthly invoices is more appropriate than the comparison of the charge per cubic meter.

Comparison between German cities

According to a study by Spiegel Online May 2007, the annual water and sewer bill a one -person household is 151 euros at a water consumption of 125 liters per day on average for all the cities studied. There are, however, major differences between the regions. Especially a lot of water costs in East Germany and North Rhine- Westphalia. In the north and south, it is comparatively cheap. In Essen, a one-person household pays 256 euros a year. In neighboring Bochum the same amount of water for half price. Overall, the Essenes must pay 340 percent of what the citizens pay in Augsburg - there is water in the national comparison at best.

One study of the Institute of the German Economy According to are, is the water and sewer bill for a four -person household in Potsdam with annual 786.48 euros and the most expensive in Karlsruhe with 226.32 Euro at its lowest. The regional cost differences are due to several factors: External conditions such as topography, population density and type of raw water used are different depending on region and play a decisive role in the fixing of prices and fees.

One explanation for the high water prices in the new federal states are the high investment costs after reunification.

International comparison

According to a 2006 study commissioned BGW given by the average water bill for a household with 82 euros per year was lower than in France and in England and Wales. This is also the case when differences in the degree of subsidization and in the quality of service be included in the bill. In sanitation, the average bill is 111 euros a year in Germany is higher than in the comparison countries. When considering subsidies and differences in the quality of service the fees are in Germany but again lower than in France and in England and Wales. It should be noted in the comparisons nor that the utilities in Germany calculate wastewater charges based on consumption of drinking water, where, for example the rain water that flows partially into the sewers, is often not considered.

Prices and charges per cubic meter

In the year 2004, the water prices and charges an average of 1.81 euros per cubic meter including VAT and sewage charges 2.14 euros per cubic meter. Prices and charges are adjusted for inflation remained stable over the past ten years.

The rates and fees vary greatly depending on your operator. In 2005, water prices and charges amounted to 2.34 euros per cubic meter, according to BGW the national average in Saxony, but only 1.31 euros per cubic meter in Schleswig -Holstein. The consulting firm NUS regularly compares water prices in 16 industrialized countries, with prices per cubic meter can be used as a yardstick. According to NIS, water prices in Germany with converted 2.25 U.S. dollars were common to those in Denmark, the highest among the 16 countries.

However, the high prices and fees per cubic meter in Germany can also be explained that water consumption in Germany is relatively low and most of the costs of water and sanitation is independent of quantity. A lower consumption can therefore, by reason of cost recovery bid after some time lead to higher prices and fees so that the amount of the water bill finally changed little.

Water meter

Almost all buildings in Germany have water meters. However, most apartments have in houses older construction does not own water meter, so that tenants have little financial incentive to save water. The costs are calculated in such cases, either per capita or per square meter.

Indirect charges

Charges for water abstraction and effluent charges are paid by the utilities to the respective State. They are included in the cost of utilities and indirectly payable by the consumer account.

Water abstraction charges. Currently, eleven federal states in Germany raise a water abstraction charges. The design of the tax structure here is not standardized and differs in a survey on primary and / or surface water, the advent, the intended use and the derogations granted to various user groups.

Wastewater discharge. Utilities are loud Wastewater Charges Act also obliged to pay a wastewater charge for the water discharge, the amount of which depends on the harmfulness of the waste water. The harmfulness is measured by the chemical oxygen demand, the content of phosphorus, nitrogen, organic halogen compounds and metals as well as the toxicity to fish eggs. The wastewater charge is intended to provide an incentive to clean waste water above the legally prescribed degree. About three percent of the cost of wastewater attributable to wastewater charges.

Investment and financing

The sector investment amount annually to about eight billion euro (100 euro per capita), including € 5.5 billion for sanitation and 2.5 billion euros for the supply of drinking water. Funding is provided through bonds and the fees of the consumer. These are picked up by the municipalities as municipal bonds or by the utilities themselves. KfW provides long -term loans of up to 30 years duration ( Kommunalkredit ), which are also used for drinking water supply and sanitation. According to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, water utilities invest about 2 billion euros for the preservation of their investments.

Pressure for change

The evolved over several decades complex socio-technical system of water supply and sanitation is under increasing pressure to change. In addition to the increasing demands on resource efficiency and ecological sustainability, there are particular problems that arise as a result of demographic changes and climate change. Decline in population in Germany, designed for growing consumption systems are increasingly underutilized and have already fallen below threshold function in some cases. This phenomenon is particularly observed in the new federal states, where structurally weak regions are affected by strong migration movements. This problem is aggravated by a change in consumer behavior ( " save water " ), more fuel-efficient household technologies and a drastic decline in industrial water consumption. Climate change also affects the water sector, as the drainage systems are more stressed as a result of increased rainier periods. On the other hand, longer dry periods to bottlenecks in the regional water supply.