Is the Flood Protection in Germany Failing?


Resolution from the professors at the Chairs of Water Management and Engineering Hydrology at German universities from June 15, 2013: The flooding in June 2013 caused immense damages. Parts of German were flooded just as in 2002 and 2005. The question, what causes these floods, gets to the heart of our understanding of the interaction between nature and humans.


We are of the opinion

that floods result from extreme weather conditions. The flooding of 2013 was a result of extreme amounts of rain, 200 millimeters of precipitation within three days, which encountered extremely wet surfaces - the highest soil moisture in 50 years was recorded at the end of May 2013.

Humans have settled along rivers for centuries. If we want to use parts of our water meadows in the future for areas of settlement, we cannot forego technical flood protection.

Every flood is unique and reveals our natural limits in influencing floods. Humans can only influence the course of extreme flooding to a certain degree by using technical measures. They must protect themselves from the effects of flooding. The dikes and flood retention systems have fulfilled their protective function in many areas throughout Germany, especially the reinforced or new facilities built after the events in 2002.

Complete flood protection does not make sense economically and is often not technically possible. Every increase in the degree of flood protection requires social consensus. The comparison between Grimma and Eilenburg demonstrates that flood protection requires the readiness to perceive one's one risk and to contribute. Personal responsibility on the part of the residents affected is also required, which supplements the state flood precautions. Society must decide: How much security is secure enough? How much of a chance do we want to take in the future?

Technical flood protection must always involve flood precautions. What happens when...? We cannot completely rule out the malfunction of protection systems. There is always a residual risk, the minimization of which is conditional of the effectiveness of the catastrophe defenses. We have the possibilities to estimate the effects of malfunctions of technical systems. It is necessary to clarify beforehand what cannot happen at all (e.g. the loss of human life or the malfunction of critical infrastructures) and to concentrate preventative flood protection on dangerous spots. Such flood risk management requires unity from flood prevention, technical flood protection, and catastrophe defense.

Every avoided dike break increases the risk of flood for those downriver and in lower-lying areas. Thus, large controllable flood polders and flood retention basins must supplement improved, stable dikes. The reinforcement and new construction of dikes in currently affected areas requires interstate flood protection strategies.

The sole demand for "more room for rivers" does not do the complexity of the issue just, it strays from the current feasible solutions, and cannot effective reduce the danger fo flooding in the decades to come. The deconstruction of dikes is a possible option, just as it is possible to resettle inhabitants of flood regions. However this will only be effective when the political will and social acceptance are present. The diverse exceptions for allowing new construction in flood regions in the water management act however, make this doubtful.

We, in Germany, are able to improve flood protection. This requires technical understanding, that we can and want to give scientists. Many new developments could already be implemented, such as new systems for dikes surveillance and security, new large-scale planning instruments for the development of interstate flood protection strategies related to flood regions, which overcome federal dissipation over flood protection in Germany, and new technical approaches for property protection and flood-proof buildings. This, however, requires the awareness, that flood protection is not a recurring task from time to time, but counts as provision in many area of our country.

The improvement of flood protection requires social dialogue about dealing with risks, openminded thinking, an awareness of reality, and the desire and strength to change. We offer our assistance in the realization of this.

This resolution was authored by the following individuals:

Prof. Peter Fröhle, Hamburg University of Technology
Prof. Kai-Uwe Graw, Dresden University of Technology
Prof. Uwe Grünewald, Brandenburg University of Technology
Prof. Uwe Haberlandt, Leibniz University of Hannover
Prof. Reinhard Hinkelmann, Technical University of Berlin
Prof. Jürgen Jensen, University of Siegen
Prof. Günter Meon, Braunschweig University of Technology
Prof. Heribert Nacken, RWTH Aachen University
Prof. André Niemann, University of Duisburg-Essen
Prof. Peter Rutschmann, Technical University of Munich
Prof. Torsten Schlurmann, Leibniz University of Hannover
Prof. Andreas Schumann (Initiator), Ruhr University Bochum
Prof. Holger Schüttrumpf, RWTH Aachen University
Prof. Jürgen Stamm, Dresden University of Technology
Prof. Stephan Theobald, University of Kassel
Prof. Silke Wieprecht, University of Stuttgart