German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Use of inland waters

Ecological status of rivers in Germany

Nutrient pollution and structural changes in watercourses threaten the ecological status of rivers and streams

German rivers are far removed from the EU Water Framework Directive target of good ecological status for all water bodies. Fewer than 10 percent currently meet this target. The reason is high levels of nutrient pollution from farming. Rivers have also deteriorated structurally due to engineering works for navigation and hydropower.

Rivers in Germany are affected by high levels of nutrient pollution and poor watercourse structure. Most of the nutrient pollution comes from intensive farming in river basin catchment areas. Watercourse structure and flow patterns have been changed radically in many rivers, mainly for shipping and hydropower. River continuity for fish is obstructed by numerous barriers. This also affects sediment transport, which is a key element of watercourse structure.

Few rivers attain good ecological status

High levels of nutrient pollution and changes in watercourse structure are the main reasons why the target under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) is currently not attained. Under the WFD, all bodies of water were to achieve at least ‘good’ ecological status by 2015. Rivers have been assessed and rated throughout Germany. In the assessment, the ecological status of 0 percent of river sections was rated ‘high’, 7 percent ‘good’, 36 percent ‘moderate’, 34 percent ‘poor’ and 20 percent ‘bad’. Action is thus needed to improve the ecological status of over 90 percent of rivers.