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Development of integrated strategies on the sustainable management of water availability problems and water use conflicts arising from Global Change, and of related environmental and socio-economic problems in the Elbe Basin.


Investigation Area: Elbe River Basin

The Elbe River Basin (148,268 km²) covers large parts of two central European countries, namely the Czech Republic (about 1/3) and Germany (about 2/3), and different geographical regions from middle mountain ranges in the west and south to large flatlands and lowlands in the central, northern and eastern part of the basin.

The Elbe, 1,091 km in length, forms one of the largest river systems in Europe. At the same time, when compared with other areas of Europe, water availability per inhabitant (680 m³) can be classified as extremely low. Around 18 million people live in the German part of the Elbe catchment, and the basin supplies 80% of overall water requirements in the new federal "Bundesländer".

The devastating flooding in August 2002 and the winter flooding 2002/2003 suddenly brought the Elbe region into the focus of public attention. These floods brought destruction and damage to large parts of the Elbe catchment in which, until that time, the dominant problem had been low water availability.



The GLOWA Elbe project focuses on the impacts of Global Change on water availability problems and water use conflicts in the Elbe catchment. Especially In the primary problem area Spree/Havel Basin, the project has the additional aim not only of identifying problems and conflicts, but of developing integrated strategies to tackle these in a sustainable way. Due to large scale lignite open pit mining, groundwater resources were withdrawn to a large extent. This fact has critical consequences for water availability and quality in the mining areas themselves (upper Spree area), but also in the downstream areas, in particular, the "Spreewald", a valuable wetland natural resource, and the lower Spree and Havel subbasins with the large urbanised area in and around Berlin.

In the first phase of GLOWA Elbe (2000-2003) the emphasis will be on investigating the consequences of a tendency towards decreasing water availability. In the proposed second phase (2003-2006), the effects of the heightened probability of extreme events will be examined. This includes both flooding and also long periods of drought.



The starting point for the analyses in GLOWA Elbe are scenarios for the future development of the essential defining quantities for water quantity and quality in the Elbe River Basin. As well as climate change scenarios, scenarios for population development and settlement structure, the development of the energy sector, farming policy and land use are included.

A new integration approach was developed integrating environmental with socio-economic, i.e. social, economic and political aspects under changing conditions. It consists of four main steps:

The GLOWA Elbe Integration Approach

  1. Development of a catalogue to scenarios of change in climate, demographic and social development, trade etc. and possible actions at the regional scale (land use, policy etc.) taking into account the interests of stakeholders, decision makers and various interest groups (communities, environmentalists, etc.);
  2. Identification of indicators of sustainability and corresponding criteria for the evaluation of different scenarios of development;
  3. Analysis of the impacts resulting from the alternative scenarios of change with respect to the selected criteria, using all available data, models, expert knowledge, literature, etc.;
  4. Multicriteria analysis and equity analysis to determine optimum or generally acceptable measures and programs for action to ensure sustainable development.

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