Everything else can be discussed during the tour, is the announcement at the press conference on Wednesday in the Tegel waterworks. The fact that the start in the overheated conference room is kept as short as possible fits the theme. Environment Senator Bettina Jarasch (Greens) and the board of directors of Berliner Wasserbetriebe (BWB) have invited here to announce the beginning of a new era. And the tour leads through windowless halls and corridors in which freshly pumped drinking water in basins and huge pipes keeps the constant heat of this summer away.
The Tegel waterworks can pump up to 200,000 cubic meters a day. But the water companies want to forego record production because hardly anything comes from the rivers and it has been raining too little for the fifth year in a row to replenish the groundwater reserves. “We live in a new era,” says Jarasch – and issues the slogan: “We have to save water – and I want to give the starting signal for that today.”
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This means that the opposite of what was true ten years ago is now official: Don’t skimp too much so that the sewage doesn’t stand and stink in the pipes, they said at the time. In addition, the supplies are almost inexhaustible. That no longer applies. For a good five years now, not only has total consumption been increasing, but also the increased demand due to heat.
“What used to be summer peaks are now plateaus,” says Jens Feddern, Head of Water Supply at BWB. This plateau of more than 600,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day extends from March to the end of September. “We still have water,” says Feddern. “But what we definitely don’t have anymore is time.”
Jarasch warns that the austerity appeal could also become an obligation: “It is fundamentally possible by law that we reduce water consumption if we are in an emergency.” This expressly does not apply to drinking water, but to “luxury uses”, such as watering Gardens in the sun, pools filled and car washes.
At the same time, Jarasch is committed to the huge task of turning Berlin into a “sponge city” in which the sparse rain is no longer channeled into the waterways, but seeps away on the spot or in the nearest pond or is stored for flushing the toilets. None of this is standard in Berlin, at least not in the stock. Only for new buildings is the discharge of rainwater into the sewage system prohibited. But for a “sponge city” areas would have to be radically unsealed, which will mean fighting over parking spaces and new buildings.
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Jarasch is committed to the goal of bringing the balance of newly sealed areas to zero by 2030 – and adds that this means tough negotiations with the building authorities. There will be no massive pressure to save on prices, at least until the end of 2023: the tariffs for water and waste water will remain constant until then. It is still unclear how much they will increase afterwards.
It is clear that the water companies have to invest massively: the former Jungfernheide and Johannisthal waterworks will be reactivated, the sewage treatment plants – whose drains flow into the waters from whose banks two thirds of the drinking water come – will be upgraded by 2030 for two billion euros.
Feddern has another argument for saving: a cubic meter of water weighs a ton. The amount of energy used for conveyance and pumps is correspondingly large. His boss, BWB board member Frank Bruckmann, adds that the energy for hot water comes on top of that. “In this respect, the taps with single-lever mixers are our enemies. Because they are usually in the middle position instead of cold.”