Lea Bosch, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
Relevance of the Practice
Water management refers to the qualitative and quantitative management of water resources, i.e. water supply and effluent disposal. Water is a public good and must therefore be managed permanently and in a way that is in the best public interest. Due to various demographic changes, new challenges are emerging in water management. The change in population structures in rural and urban areas is hereby a significant factor. Demand in urban areas is increasing, while rural areas must try to keep quality standards high for a decreasing number of users. This leads in particular to prognostic uncertainties regarding future demand. In addition, the topic is currently being given special attention, as there are numerous demands for a ‘human right to water and sanitation’. The public water supply serves the public good. The provision of drinking water as well as the disposal of sewerage is, in accordance with the division of competences laid down in the Basic Law (BL), the responsibility of the municipalities and other public bodies according to the respective Länder-law (see also paras 50(1), 56(1) WHG). This is a self-government task (Selbstverwaltungsaufgabe,i.e., a services of general interest) and thus, ultimate responsibility lies within the municipality (first sentence of Article 28(2) BL).
Description of the Practice
First of all, it should be noted that Germany has in general a very high drinking water quality, as tap water is drinkable (almost) everywhere. This may vary only in some regions, because of topographical reasons. The central water management including water supply and effluent disposal is carried out as public service by the municipalities. This service includes five tasks: (i) water extraction and possibly treatment of the raw water; (ii) distribution of drinking water to final consumers (households, trade and industry, public institutions), provision of the domestic water meter; (iii) collection and discharge of waste water and rainwater; (iv) treatment of waste water and rainwater; and (v) treatment and disposal of sewage sludge. As not every municipality has resources to carry out all tasks independently, different kinds of consolidations occur. The municipalities have the sovereignty to form cooperations (Article 28(2) BL), which makes it possible for different municipalities to operate jointly.
For example, in Bavaria are 2,056 municipalities and 2,350 utilities. Nevertheless, it should be noted that there is currently a tendency towards centralization, at least in terms of organizational law. Municipal mergers (permitted under the general Federal Water Association Act [Gesetz über Wasser- und Bodenverbände, WVG] or the respective Länder-laws on municipal cooperation) or cooperation in municipal supra-local companies under private law are being established (inter-municipal cooperation [interkommunale Zusammenarbeit], see above). Joint inter-municipal corporations (Zweckverbände) are set up for this purpose, which in turn transfer the organization to municipal public enterprises (government enterprises; own enterprises) or to private enterprises under private law in the hands of the municipalities (own companies). The public service tasks (see above) in water management can only be transferred to private third parties under strict conditions (Section 56(1)(3) WHG). Even in case of such a transfer, the responsibility of the municipality, in the sense of the material municipal guarantee responsibility, as well as the associated obligation to effectively perform the service, remains intact. In practice, this means that even in the event of a transfer of tasks, the municipality is responsible for monitoring. Principally, this form of performance can therefore also take place across municipal boundaries.
Moreover, public procurement law does not apply to the transfer of concessions in the domestic sphere, i.e. ultimately to the transfer of tasks to another public authority, e.g. in the context of inter-municipal cooperation. Interventions in the competences of other associations can only be possible as extensions of competences through inter-area economic activity by virtue of law and in compliance with the jurisdiction of the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht). Moreover, some municipal laws contain opening clauses in favor of inter-territorial economic activities, which, however, always require that the interests of the foreign municipalities are safeguarded.
Summarizing, municipalities have to guarantee water supply and sewage disposal as state task. There is a constitutionally warranty of equal living conditions throughout the federal territory (Bundesgebiet) and thus, a nationwide supply and disposal must be ensured. Municipalities can issue statutory regulations requiring residents to be connected to the water system and, in individual cases, allow for equally decentralized solutions. As rural areas are experiencing a significant and worsening population decline, this – among other things – is also leading to more a difficult water management, especially regarding financial aspects. The scope of warranty of water supply and effluent disposal is only valid for those places, which already have a basic suitability for taking up residence. There is no claim to the creation of these conditions. In individual cases, turning away from a comprehensive water supply and effluent disposal system may prove to be permissible – i.e. proportionate due to economic unreasonableness for the municipality. The citizens left behind in rural areas have a high subjective interest in maintaining existing service standards. A complete devaluation of the constitutionally protected property must of course be countervailed with compensatory measures, etc., in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht). Decentralized, new solutions are also possible, especially in the field of effluent disposal law. In doing so, individual planning of demand and, as a result, security of supply must be ensured due to the changing number and structure of customers. For this purpose, a smaller-scale local sewerage disposal system can be agreed upon, including decentralized effluent disposal treatment plants.
However, it remains open how this legal obligation to ensure water supply and effluent disposal will develop in consequence of the ongoing changes. The legislatures and the current legal situation therefore seem willing and able to maintain the supply of drinking water and the disposal of wastewater in rural areas. This is the only way to maintain flexibility of supply in the future. In particular, the cooperation of many small rural local governments (RLGs) in joint inter-municipal corporations is a decisive factor in keeping the burden to be distributed in-between and as little as possible for each.
Assessment of the Practice
Proposals to strengthen competition and the possibility of privatizing water management (water supply and effluent disposal) are regularly brought up in political and legal discussions. Various demands to reform the water management law, especially for liberalization and privatization, arise. Evaluation of these proposals differs widely. In Berlin, the privatization of the utilities in 1999 resulted in such an increase in costs for the end consumer that the privatization was reversed in 2013. In general, the German model of water management is to be assessed positively: from the point of view of quality, environmental factors, and even with regard to the price-performance ratio and general cost aspects. In any case, new concepts for rural areas and their problems, especially in the technical and financial management of effluent disposal, should nevertheless be made politically and legally possible. The municipalities will not be able to implement these concepts on their own, but the existing organizational structure in joint inter-municipal corporations is beneficial. In addition to coping with demographic change and corresponding decentralization, another challenge will be dealing with climate change (increasing temperature, groundwater level, quality of water in pipes, removal of rainwater runoff). Moreover, many infrastructures are outdated and therefore in great need of renewal.
References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications
Report from the Commission, COM(2019) 95 final
Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications:
Burgi M, ‘Privatisierung der Wasserversorgung und Abwasserbeseitigung‘ in Reinhard Hendler and others (eds), Umweltschutz, Wirtschaft und kommunale Selbstverwaltung. 16. Trierer Kolloquium zum Umwelt- und Technikrecht (Erich Schmidt Verlag 2000, 2001)
BMU/UBA (eds), Wasserwirtschaft in Deutschland. Teil 1: Grundlagen (Umweltbundesamt 2010)
Köck W, ‘Zur Entwicklung des Rechts der Wasserversorgung und der Abwasserbeseitigung’ (2015) ZUR 3
Reinhardt M, ‘Demografischer Wandel im Wasserrecht – Rechtsrahmen für Daseinsvorsage und Gewässerschutz‘ (2018) LKV 289
Rommel K and Burr R, ‘Wasserwirtschaftliche Daten für Stadt und Land‘ (2018) 9 Statistisches Monatsheft Baden-Württemberg <https://www.statistik-bw.de/Service/Veroeff/Monatshefte/PDF/Beitrag18_09_08.pdf> accessed 10 March 2020>
Rost G and others, ‘Auswirkungen eines technischen Paradigmenwechsels auf die wasserwirtschaftliche Organisation in strukturschwachen ländlichen Räumen‘ (2015) 73 Raumforschung, Raumordnung 343
Weiß N, ‘Kommunale Wasserversorgung – Ungewissheit über zukünftige [ordnungspolitische] Strukturen‘ in Ulrich Hösch (ed), Zeit und Ungewissheit im Recht (Boorberg 2011)
 This task includes the protection of water resources against pollution and deterioration (particularly with regard to water quality there are strict regulations under European law), see Wolfgang Köck, ‘Zur Entwicklung des Rechts der Wasserversorgung und der Abwasserbeseitigung’ (2015) ZUR 3, 5ff.
 ‘The Human Right to Water and Sanitation’ (United Nations, 29 May 2014) <https://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/human_right_to_water.shtml> accessed 21 February 2020.
 Michael Reinhardt, ‘Demografischer Wandel im Wasserrecht – Rechtsrahmen für Daseinsvorsage und Gewässerschutz‘ (2018) LKV 289, 291.
 Köck, ‘Zur Entwicklung des Rechts der Wasserversorgung und der Abwasserbeseitigung’, above, 8.
 Karin Rommel and Regina Burr, ‘Wasserwirtschaftliche Daten für Stadt und Land‘ (2018) 9 Statistisches Monatsheft Baden-Württemberg 37 <https://www.statistik-bw.de/Service/Veroeff/Monatshefte/PDF/Beitrag18_09_08.pdf> accessed 10 March 2020>.
 Köck, ‘Zur Entwicklung des Rechts der Wasserversorgung und der Abwasserbeseitigung’, above, 8.
 For more details, see Köck, ‘Zur Entwicklung des Rechts der Wasserversorgung und der Abwasserbeseitigung’, above, 3.
 Reinhardt, ‘Demografischer Wandel im Wasserrecht‘, above, 292.
 Nicole Weiß, ‘Kommunale Wasserversorgung – Ungewissheit über zukünftige [ordnungspolitische] Strukturen‘ in Ulrich Hösch (ed), Zeit und Ungewissheit im Recht (Boorberg 2011) 478ff. For in-house criteria, see, among others, EuGH Rs. C-107/98 v. 18.11.1999 – Teckal; BGH, Az.: I ZR 145/05 (Kommunalversicherer) v. 3.7.2008.
 ‘However, central supply and disposal facilities clearly dominate: 99% of households in Germany are connected to the public water supply and 95% of households to sewerage and wastewater treatment facilities.’, Köck, ‘Zur Entwicklung des Rechts der Wasserversorgung und der Abwasserbeseitigung’, above, 7f; further BMU/UBA(eds), Wasserwirtschaft in Deutschland. Teil 1: Grundlagen (Umweltbundesamt 2010) 86.
 Reinhardt, ‘Demografischer Wandel im Wasserrecht‘, above, 293.
 ibid 294.
 ibid 291.
 Martin Burgi, ‘Privatisierung der Wasserversorgung und Abwasserbeseitigung‘ in Reinhard Hendler and others (eds), Umweltschutz, Wirtschaft und kommunale Selbstverwaltung. 16. Trierer Kolloquium zum Umwelt- und Technikrecht (Erich Schmidt Verlag 2000, 2001) 101ff; Weiß, ‘Kommunale Wasserversorgung‘, above, 475ff.