Environment minister Peter Altmaier has reacted to Germany’s record floods by calling for rivers to be given more room to buffer their floodwaters, if necessary through removal of riverside homes and relocation of dikes.
Germany record floods along the Elbe and Danube – just over a decade after its Elbe flood disaster in 2002 – were described by Environment Minister Peter Altmaier on Tuesday as “alarming” evidence that “extreme weather events” had become more frequent and required drastic hydrological remedies.
Altmaier told the Passauer Neuen Presse – the newspaper of the Bavarian river-junction city hit massively last week – that river terraces must be reclaimed as temporary overflow storage sites to prevent rivers peaking at dramatic levels.
Dikes must be set back further from waterways, larger flood terraces must be designated, and, as a last recourse, expropriation of riverside homes and premises could not be excluded, said Altmaier.
“We must prepare ourselves and reckon that in the future there will be more similar extreme high-water situations,” he said.
Prepare, says municipalities’ CEO
The chief executive of Germany’s federal association representing 11,000 city, town and district councils, Dr. Gerd Landsberg, told the Rheinische Post newspaper of Düsseldorf that Germany needed fast-track flood-protection legislation.
This, said Landsberg, should give priority to flood-protection measures over protests by conservationists or riverside residents who oppose unsightly structures.
“We must give up the idea that a “100-year flood” only happens once every 100 years,” Landsberg said. Recovery work this time round would take up to three years and cost Germany at least 10 billion euros ($13.2 billion), he estimated.
Environment minister Altmaier said that, of 18 projects along the Elbe to set back dikes and create more floodwater space, only four had actually been realized, often because of objections by land owners.
Their remarks precede a meeting on Thursday between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the premiers of Germany’s 16 regional states or Länder.
Elbe flood crest grips northern Germany
The elongated flood crest of the river Elbe – roughly five meters (16.5 feet) above normal – has inundated riverside areas in five northern German states: Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Schleswig Holstein. Officials warn that high levels will remain for days as the river drains toward Hamburg.
Train passengers face delays and route diversions because of an Elbe bridge closure enacted on Monday. Among those train links affected, according to Germany’s rail operator Bundesbahn, are its long-distance services from Berlin via Hannover to Cologne and from Berlin to Frankfurt.
At Fischbeck, in Saxony-Anhalt’s district of Stendal, Bundeswehr personnel with military helicopters carrying large sand sacks (pictured above) are still trying to plug a 50-meter wide dike breach.
The gap has channeled floodwaters across a federal highway and towards other towns. Across the Stendal district, some 11,000 residents have been evacuated or warned to leave danger zones.
The water level in Magdeburg, the state’s capital, upriver, had dropped half a meter on Tuesday since its peak on Sunday when a key electric substation needed for pumps was nearly inundated. The level on Tuesday was still 13 centimeters higher than the city’s previous record in 2002.
Brandenburg’s city of Wittenberge is bracing itself for a historic high of 8.2 meters. Its median level is 2.77 meters.
Further north at Dömitz, in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania state, the water is 40 centimeters above its highest recorded level, leaving residents alarmed that dikes could break.
At Hitzzacker and Schnackenburg, in Lower Saxony state, the Elbe is flowing at levels half-a-meter higher than any previous measurements, according to the state’s environmental ministry in Hanover.
Inland shipping left idle
Germany’s BDB inland waterway shipping federation says cargo traffic was halted days ago on the Elbe, the Main and the Danube. It could take up to 14 days for masses of fluvial shingle and floating flood debris such as tree stumps to be removed before waterways can be declared reopened, it said.
For each inland ship left idle, the average daily cost was 1,500 euros, said the BDB. Losses already ran into the millions of euros. Especially hard hit were small, family shipping operators.