Practical solutions for groundwater and soil management in a changing climate: In the WaterFarmers pilot area of the international Blue Transition research project led by the Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics, the umbrella organisation for field irrigation in Uelzen, Dachverband Feldberegnung Uelzen (DFU), is developing various solutions to secure groundwater resources, while at the same time satisfying increasing irrigation demand in agriculture, and putting it into practice. The pilot areas in Uelzen, including water storage, can serve as models for other districts. Lower Saxony's Minister of Science and Culture, Falko Mohrs, visited the project area.
Having sufficient water of good quality available at all times is one of the great social challenges of the 21st Century. The EU strategy for adapting to climate change as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the EU directives for groundwater, water and soils call for rapid and systematic changes. The joint project "Blue Transition" aims to enable such systematic changes in a sustainable way through integrated water and soil management, taking into account complex factors that influence each other. To this end, an international group of researchers is developing practical solutions in 16 pilot areas in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, France, and Germany in a transnational approach and deriving findings for water associations, farmers, authorities, and society. The research is funded with a total of 7.1 million euros, including over 4.5 million euros from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
WaterFarmers in Uelzen; a beacon for safe irrigation
There are four pilot areas in Lower Saxony and Bremen. One partner in the project is the DFU, which is developing and putting into practice targeted solutions for sustainable and safe groundwater management, despite persistent droughts and necessary field irrigation in the WaterFarmers pilot area. One example for an existing solution to reduce groundwater extraction is the use of water from the Stöcken water reservoir. Cooperation with Nordzucker AG, which uses water solely from the processed sugar beet from the Uelzen sugar factory during the campaign, ensures climate-adapted water management for agricultural field irrigation of around 5,000 hectares. "Every year, around 1.4 million cubic metres of groundwater are replaced by water from the three storage basins," explains Jörg Martens, DFU project manager. "Uelzen is the only region nationwide to use storage water and can serve as a model for other districts."
Further innovative solutions planned
Further solutions are now being developed within the framework of Blue Transition. These build, to some extent, on the TOPSOIL project completed in 2021, in which a "triple monitoring" approach was developed. Together with the monitoring data and detailed knowledge of the subsurface, this will identify the impact of specific groundwater abstraction on small streams, enabling targeted and sustainable management of groundwater resources.
Together with the farmers, the DFU would like to develop a cooperative groundwater-abstraction management scheme over the next two and a half years. To this end, the first step will be to use the groundwater flow model developed by the DFU to identify the regions and wells where groundwater withdrawals have a direct negative impact on so-called groundwater-dependent terrestrial ecosystems. In the next step, solutions for water supply for field irrigation are to be sought together with regionally affected farmers. In addition to relocating groundwater withdrawal to unproblematic areas with new wells and appropriate supply lines, curative measures at water bodies and biotopes, or the use of groundwater substitutes, are possible solutions. In addition, it is planned to dam ditches over the winter, so water can slowly seep away, or to divert water from drainage systems into seepage basins.
Politicians walk through the area
The WaterFarmers pilot area also met with great interest from politicians. In May 2023, Lower Saxony's Minister of Science and Culture, Falko Mohrs, and the State Commissioner of the Office for Regional Development Leine-Weser, Frauke Patzke, among others, visited the area.
Minister Mohrs says: "In times of climate change, the issue of water supply is becoming increasingly important for all of us, regardless of which region we live in. This makes projects for sustainable groundwater management more important for us. WaterFarmers is an excellent example of how partners from different disciplines across national borders are working together to develop sustainable solutions that give us and future generations secure access to water as a resource. I am particularly pleased that Lower Saxony is playing a major role in this important goal by researching and implementing practical solutions."
Mike Müller-Petke, who heads the Blue Transition project and groundwater research at the Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics, sees the interdisciplinary and transnational cooperation in Blue Transition as crucial and purposeful to ensure the sustainable management of the North Sea region. "Practical solutions will be found in the pilot areas. These aim at the management of agricultural land in the coastal area, the conservation and rewetting of peatlands, and urban water management." For this purpose, however, it is always important to record more precisely the subsurface structure as well as the processes over a larger area with the help of geophysics, including the use of drones.
Project partners and areas in Germany
In Germany, in addition to the LIAG (Hanover), the Oldenburgisch-Ostfriesische Wasserverband (Brake), the State Office for Mining, Energy and Geology (Hanover), the Dachverband Feldberegnung Uelzen, the Landwirtschaftskammer Niedersachsen (Oldenburg), the Geological Service for Bremen at the University of Bremen and the Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe (Hanover) are involved.
The Blue Transition joint project will run until March 2026.
For more information, see the Blue Transition project page of the Interreg North Sea Programme: Website.