The elixir of life is drying up: aspects of water scarcity and drought in the region

Bretten / Region (ger / hk) Water is currently an extremely scarce commodity: water levels are declining, and as a result soil and forests continue to dry out and wildfires occur again and again. Where do the dangerous effects stand out in the region in particular? The editors asked Catherine Gerwick and Hava Keskin about it.

Stadtwerke: “Use water carefully and in moderation”

According to the director of Stadtwerke, Stefan Klick, the current situation of water consumption in the region is tense. The water supply of Lake Constance is fully used and the corresponding amount of private water is also added. “Well levels drop relatively sharply, with hardly any new groundwater forming due to the prolonged drought,” Klick says. More than 8000 cubic meters of water will be used per day. This is unusual this holiday season. “Compared to the very dry year 2020, we have 20 thousand cubic meters of consumption in July, which is 645 cubic meters per day.” No relief looms: at the beginning of August, water consumption was still high, according to the weather forecast. Hot weather, no precipitation in sight. “Please use water carefully and in moderation. Do not refill swimming pools, do not water flowers or grass every day, and do not take long and unnecessary baths,” the chief of Stadtwerke appealed to citizens.

Concerns in NABU and BUND

Andreas Arlt of Nabu Britten is sure that the ongoing drought will lead to the disappearance of entire biological species with their specialized flora and fauna. Wet organisms such as swamps, wet meadows, ponds, puddles and flowing surface waters are particularly affected. In the Britten region, this mainly affects the amphibians of water bodies and meadow groves. “If this was followed by a similar summer without winter moisture, parts of the orchards would die and the entire orchard group would disappear. Replanting is already hopeless, as I can see from my trees in Walzbachtal,” says Arlt. The vegetation cover in Germany will change drastically in the short term. “It will probably be more similar to the flora of the Mediterranean. Of course, this will also bring new communities with it, but it will not be the ones we are used to that have been typical of the site for centuries.”
Arlt sees the expansion of renewable energies as a priority, “even if individual species are affected like the red kite.” He adds, “Fossil and nuclear energies add to the problem and costs for future generations, for whom we are already leaving a world in insecurity, with diminished prosperity and great tasks we seem unable to solve ourselves.”
Despite best efforts, severe drought and successive dry years have severely hit the habitats of animals that depend on water for reproduction. In this context, Gerhard Deets of BUND Bretten speaks of a “blow” to the work of the local group. The spawning water will increasingly dry up too soon. In some ponds, created only a few years ago, amphibians can no longer breed. But not only the habitat, but also the food base is disappearing: the forest, which serves as a summer residence for amphibians, provides fewer prey animals such as worms and snails due to the dry soil.
In order to ensure the long-term survival of amphibians, new spawning water must be established. For example, Deets cites the so-called paradise pond, a standing body of water that is fed exclusively from rain, i.e. from “heaven” and can be sealed with mud and lime to prevent the water from seeping away. If we stop closing natural areas now, we only believe in the status quo. That’s why we should open it up,” says Deets.

Vegetable farms: “Some watered in March and April”

“We can’t do anything without watering anymore,” says Gunter Kohler of Gärtnerhof Kohler in Gondelsheim. In the hot year of 2003, the Demeter farm, which had no irrigation facilities until then, faced a complete loss that would not have survived without state assistance. In the past fifteen years, the family, which grows more than 40 types of vegetables, has managed its affairs well without watering. Since then I have warmed up. One third of its area is irrigable. Groundwater is pumped from a well with a depth of 30 meters into a tank with a capacity of 100 cubic meters. Kohler noted that groundwater recedes because filling takes longer and longer. “In drought years like these, we sometimes have to water as early as March and April.”
In fields not connected to irrigation systems, Kohlers grow potatoes, pumpkins and leeks. “But I’ve also had to water the leeks for four weeks now.” To do this, he drives a class watering cart over the areas every three days and uses 15,000 liters in one watering. The company’s tin houses in Nippesheim are irrigated with local water. In general, they use water in moderation, making sure to water so a little evaporates. Koehler hopes to be able to build a second well near the hall at Gundelsheim. “But I don’t know if that will be approved yet,” he says. However, more investments are necessary to make the company sustainable. At the same time, operating costs are decreasing: diesel for tractors and conveyors, electricity for cold stores, minimum wages for harvest workers. However, Koehler maintains that product prices have not been increased in the past three years.

Forests are trying to counter this

According to Simon Boden, Director of the Forestry District of Kraichgau, the forest, as a slow-responding ecosystem, remains vulnerable due to the drought years 2018 to 2020 and by 2022 which is currently very dry and hot. Young trees in cultures are still largely minor damage. Depending on the location, there is also drought and thermal damage to young plants. However, the Forestry Bureau was particularly concerned about the larger trees: “There have been no large-scale failures so far, but there have been damages to individual trees – including climate-stable oaks. However, it looks much worse for the tree species. Main beechwood.” Rainy year 2021 has brought a break, but there is currently very little rain again. “Reservoirs on the floors are empty. The drought monitor is currently talking about severe to severe drought in the soil to a depth of 1.80 meters in the Kraichengau region,” says Simon Boden. In extreme cases, the lack of water coupled with extremely high temperatures has weakened the trees. The forests are trying to counter this, and the transformation of the forests is progressing steadily. The focus here is mainly on more climate-stable tree species such as oak, hornbeam, linden or walnut and wild fruit species. According to the director of the forest area, this will also change the appearance of the forest: “In the future, the forest in Kraichgau will tend to have lighter structures, will not be tall and old, will be a mixture of many types of trees.”

Zoo: focus on reforestation and plant protection

“For us, the forest is important, existential and fundamental,” says Annika Willig, director of the Britten Zoo. This is evident, as the ambiance of the park is shaped largely by the forest background, and the animals and visitors enjoy the shady trees of the area. She adds, “We continue to hear from visitors that they really enjoyed their short vacation with us, to relax and unwind wonderfully. We attribute that of course to the combination of animals, tranquility and ambiance created by the trees and the forest, once again.”
But Willig is also aware of the severe consequences of water shortages and drought in the zoo: “There are now a few ‘sun holes’ because the trees are dead,” says the zoo’s head. The family business has been trying to reforest the zoo for about five years. ‘This crop protection is therefore the focus.’ The family business is responsible for the nature of the zoo and has leased the forest. “So the development is of great concern to us.” For animals, the situation is still calm. The horses in the field need more water and you should pay attention to the holes of the fallen pigs so that they do not dry out. As a result of heat, animals will reduce their activity. “The good climate here is relatively high,” Willig explains. “You can’t compare it to the climate in the city – there’s no heat build-up.”

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