Berlin / Water

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Description of the problem

Berlin has an area of 880 km² and a population of 3.4 million. The largest distance from east to west is 45 km, from north to south 38 km.

Berlin / map

In east-west direction, the Spree flows through the city forming a roughly 7 km wide valley – bordered in the north and south by plateaus – that terminates in the valley of the Havel at Spandau. These valleys form part of the Berlin-Warsaw ancient river valley that provides the treasured groundwater under the city.But in terms of feeder streams and precipitation, the metropolitan area of Berlin suffers from a water shortage. The lakes are shallow, the rivers are slow-running and, especially in summer, carry little water. This makes Berlin's bodies of water ecologically very sensitive systems. The water supply and wastewater disposal for the city of Berlin depends in large measure on influents from the brown coal open-cast mining areas of Brandenburg. The quantity of groundwater being pumped there into the Spree River is decreasing because of the decline in brown coal extraction, and it will decrease further.

For the purpose of regulating the rate of flow of the Spree, large reservoirs are planned or are already under construction. High levels of direct and indirect discharge from sewage works, use of the river for industrial and other purposes, the effects of shipping and leisure seekers are all impairing the water quality. On account of the high level of sealing of the city, when it rains, large amounts of polluted storm water flow through the separate drainage system into the water bodies.

The main water quality problems are eutrophication, the associated growth of algae, and damage to the oxygen balance caused by eight major sewage plants. Following technological improvements, phosphate and nitrogen effluents from the sewage works, and thus pollution, have been reduced substantially since the end of the eighties. In order to obtain the clean-up goal of water quality Class II – slightly eutrophic – further upgrading of the sewage works and storm water drainage measures are necessary and planned. Unlike many other cities, drinking water is obtained in Berlin solely from groundwater extracted within the city. Drinking water wells are mostly in the immediate vicinity of the water bodies. Thus, two-thirds of the water extracted actually consist of bank filtrate or artificially recharged surface water. Therefore, the quality of both the surface and groundwater is very important for the drinking water supply. It is estimated that about 40% of groundwater reserves are threatened by contamination, mainly by some 5.500 old polluted sites and areas not yet connected to the sewage system. The main problems are heavy metals, phenoles, hydrocarbons, and ammonium. Unlike in many federal Länder, nitrate pollution is not a problem. While cleaning up the polluted sites will take a long time yet, the sewage system is scheduled to be completed by the end of the nineties. Ever more sealing of the city and rising water consumption had caused the groundwater table to sink sharply until the beginning of the eighties. Since then, the water table has risen significantly thanks to a 25 % decline of in water consumption and more widespread groundwater replenishment. The regulations and instruments for the management and protection of surface and groundwater resources are based on federal laws governing water resource management and wast water disposal and passed at the end of the eighties, and on the 1989 Berlin Water Act. In the meantime, attempts are being made, with increasing success, to influence the use and consumption of water resources using economic instruments, such as fees and prices. The shortage of surface and groundwater resources in Berlin and their vulnerability mean that there is a special need for sustainable water resource management. This must apply both to the quantity and quality of the water. In the future, water must be used only in such a way that it becomes available again, in a short cycle, for drinking and industrial purposes. In terms of water use, sustainability means: extraction of the water within the confines of the city minimising the quantity of water used; groundwater withdrawal must be proportional to replenishment and recharge; there is a direct correlation between drinking water use and surface water quality; this requires particular efforts with respect to pollution control of the water bodies; consequently, the standard of wastewater treatment must be particularly high; treated wastewater must be used to boost the rate of flow of the bodies of water; a high degree of storm water retention in the area.

Drinking water

All the drinking water for Berlin - 100 % of some 205 million cu.m. in 2008 - is obtained from groundwater. Moreover, the groundwater resources were tapped by private and industrial water users, as well as for large-scale groundwater retention measures for construction projects, groundwater redevelopment measures and heat use. The Spandau, Tegel, Tiefwerder, Beelitzhof, Kladow, Wuhlheide, Kaulsdorf and Friedrichshagen waterworks, which are currently used to supply Berlin's drinking water, are located in the Warsaw-Berlin Glacial Spillway or the Havel Channel .Only the Stolpe waterworks north of Berlin takes its water from the State of Brandenburg, and sends to the city water amounting to a maximum of 9 % of the total discharge of the BWB for the public water supply of Berlin. It is maintained by the BWB, and is also responsible for providing drinking water to several nearby Brandenburg communities.

Berlin / waterworks

Berlin / waterworks

Processing of groundwater supply of drinking water

Berlin / Processing of groundwater  supply  of  drinking  water

Water transport

Berlin is linked to the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, and the River Rhine by an extensive network of rivers, lakes and canals. An equally extensive network of waterways exists within the city boundaries, providing local access and various short-cuts. The waterways accommodate a mixture of commercial traffic, sightseeing tour boats, ferries and a large fleet of private leisure boats.

map of waterways in the Berlin region

Map of waterways in  the Berlin region

The waterways of Berlin

Berlin city centre is located on the River Spree, which runs roughly east to west across the city. TheRiver Dahme joins the Spree at Köpenick, in the city's eastern suburbs. At Spandau the Spree joins theRiver Havel, which flows roughly north to south along the city's western boundary. To both east and west of the centre of Berlin, all three of these rivers flow through substantial chains of lakes. These include theTegeler See and Großer Wannsee to the west, and the Müggelsee, Langer See, Seddinsee andZeuthener See to the east.

The Elbe–Havel Canal links the River Havel downstream of Spandau with both the River Elbe, which flows into the North Sea at Hamburg, and with the Mittelland Canal, which stretches across Germany to a network of canals that provide a link to the River Rhine. Both the Oder–Havel and Oder–Spree canals provide routes from the Berlin area to the River Oder, which flows into the Baltic Sea near Szczecin and provides links to Poland. The Oder-Havel Canal links with the River Havel north of Spandau, whilst the Oder-Spree Canal links with the River Dahme east of Köpenick.

The most important canals within Berlin run roughly east to west between the rivers Spree and Havel. The canal system to the north of the Spree begins with the Berlin-Spandau Ship Canal, which runs from the Spree near theHauptbahnhof to the River Havel above Spandau. The Westhafen Canal and the Charlottenburg Canal, both nearCharlottenburg, provide further connections between the Berlin-Spandau Ship Canal and the River Spree.

The main canal to the south of the Spree is the Teltow Canal, which runs from the Dahme south of Köpenickthrough the southern part of Berlin to an arm of the Havel just east of Potsdam. A shorter canal, the Landwehr Canal, parallels the Spree through the centre of Berlin. It begins at the Spree between Treptow and Kreuzberg and rejoins the Spree in Charlottenburg. The Neukölln Ship Canal connects the Landwehr Canal with the Teltow Canal; while the Britz Canal connects the Teltow Canal with the Spree at Baumschulenweg.

Whilst not within Berlin, the existence of the city and its partition led to the construction of the Havel Canal in 1951-2. This canal provides an alternative route between Hennigsdorf and Paretz, both then in East Germany, and avoids the stretch of the River Havel that was under the political control of West Berlin.

Waterborn traffic

Berlin's largest port is the Westhafen ("west port"), in Moabit (Mitte), with an area of 173,000 m² (42.75 acres). It lies at the intersection of the Berlin-Spandau Ship Canal and the Westhafen Canal. It handles the shipping of grain and pieced and heavy goods. The Südhafen ("south port"), which actually lies along the Havel in Spandau, in far western Berlin, covers an area of about 103,000 m² (25.5 acres) and also handles the shipping of pieced and heavy goods. The Osthafen ("east port"), with an area of 57,500 m² (14.2 acres), lies along the Spree in Friedrichshain. The Hafen Neukölln, with only 19,000 m² (4.7 acres), is located along the Neuköllner Ship Canal inNeukölln. It handles the shipping of building materials.

Westhafen ("west port")

Berlin Westhafen (west  port)

Sightseeing boats operate on the central section of the River Spree and its adjoining waterways on a frequent basis. Common tours operated include short tours on the River Spree in the city centre, and a three hour circuit of the city centre via the River Spree and the Landwehr Canal. Other sightseeing boats operate on the various lakes to the east and west of Berlin.

Floating Swimming Pool

In 2004 Berlin added a new attraction on the Spree River. This attraction is a stunning art installation with a floating swimming pool attached to wooden decking at the water’s edge. The people in Berlin fell in love with it, a permanent pool that is even covered during the winter, is home to a bar and stays open until midnight. The whole structure looks fantastic, especially at night, and is a reminder that a small amount of creativity can go a long way.

Berlin / Floating Swimming Pool

The attraction is called Winter Badeschiff, designed by local artist Susanne Lorenz. Today the structure offers a pristine 8 x 32 meter pool. Resting almost level with the Spree’s surface the design gives one the sensation of swimming in the river itself with the city skyline as a dramatic backdrop. An open-air recreational complex in the warm months, the curving translucent shelter and saunas were added just last December, under the direction of architect Gil Wilk, making the Badeschiff suitable for winter use.

Berlin / Floating Swimming Pool 2