More water for the city of apples: the Ministry of the Environment announces the concept

Rico Heinemann is very angry. During an on-site visit from MDR THÜRINGEN, he points to the dried up riverbed of the Apfelstädt river between Wechmar and Neudietendorf. This meadow is protected. A spokesman for the citizens’ initiative “Lebensraum Apfelstädt” says the FFH area is practically dead because it has been dry for so long, nothing can be saved here. Heinemann has led the Citizens’ Initiative since its inception in 2020. He is still making more and more demands from the Turin Ministry of the Environment: finally do something to stop the river from dying! Also this year, kilometers of the river have been dry for weeks. These are the same photos as from the dry years 2019 and 2020.

Conflict over the causes of the drying up of the river bed

The water in the city of apple trees is dammed up just beyond the upper springs. Between 1905 and 1993, a total of three dams were built between Tambach-Dietharz and Luisental, of which part of Thuringia is supplied with drinking water: the Ohra Dam, the Schmalwasser Dam and the Tambach-Dietharz Dam. Some of the water from the Tambach Dam has been used to generate electricity since 2020. Since the hydropower plants working with it are located on the river, the water used to power the turbines does not flow back into the apple city.

Since the project went live, the dispute over water has escalated more and more: a citizens’ initiative called for the shutdown of a hydroelectric plant known as the West Ring Cascade to keep the river from drying out. The Ministry of the Environment of Thuringia repeated almost like a mantra that electricity production was not the cause of dehydration. The river is sinking into the karst subsoil, and climate change means less water is available.

The CDU’s motion does not go to the state parliament

In February 2022, the Citizens’ Initiative with Petition made the apple a topic on the petition committee of the State Parliament of Thuringia. Since then, the river has also been the subject of controversy in state policy. The national parliamentary grouping of the CDU has repeatedly tried to make parliamentary conclusions more important to civic initiatives and local politics and to listen to them. AfD members also raised the river situation in the environmental committee. Last Wednesday, an attempt to put the subject on the agenda of the last session of the national parliament before the summer break was unsuccessful: the urgent motion did not obtain the necessary majority. Above all, the environmental policy spokeswoman for the parliamentary group Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen, Laura Wahl, found the proposal redundant: the Environment Ministry is already working on a solution, she said.

The union faction demands that electricity production be switched off

In its unsuccessful proposal, the parliamentary group of the CDU demands three things: Thuringia’s Ministry of Environment should order the Turin long-distance water supply, as operator of the Tambach-Dietharz dam, to close its green energy production plant by September 30, 2022. At that time, the water previously diverted from the dam to eco-friendly -electricity (on average over 500 liters per second) should flow directly to the city of apple trees. And with the accompanying monitoring until the end of September, it is necessary to investigate how the water consumption for the apple city affects the water supply during the year.

In an interview with MDR THÜRINGEN, the parliamentary group’s environmental spokesman, Thomas Gottweiss, criticized the ministry for concealing data. Already in the summer of 2021, the long-distance waterworks in Thuringia, as the dam operator, calculated, on the instructions of the ministry, what alternative management of dams could look like, which would ultimately leave more water for the river. Instead of implementing this solution and thus relieving apple-tree cities in the dry summer of 2022, the ministry is keeping the data under lock and key.

The Wechmar warehouse releases water during test operation

At the request of MDR THÜRINGEN, Thuringia’s Secretary of State for Environment Burkhard Vogel said that such a calculation exists. However, it has not yet been completed. This solution was not used last year because his company relied on draining the river through the Wechmar reservoir.

The ministry has announced several times that it will repair an old agricultural warehouse from the GDR era and collect water there in winter, so that it can be directed to the apple city in summer. The test run is now running. However, the fishing association, incl. He complains that the quality of this water, which has been standing in the Wechmar reservoir for a long time, is not good for the town’s apple-tree ecosystem. The Ministry of Environment also supervises the critical quality of water from the reservoir.

The ministry has calculated alternative scenarios

Therefore, the secretary of state for the environment, he says, wants the calculations to supplement Turin’s long-distance water supply from 2021. Based on the results, according to Vogel, the aim is to develop theoretical scenarios for a new and dynamic management of a complex system that consists of several interconnected dams. Scenarios taking into account complex – primarily hydrological – relationships and answering the following questions: What parameters does the system have and which of them can be sensibly adjusted? Since the optimization has to include three things: drinking water from the dam must be provided, electricity must be produced at the same time, but more water must also be supplied to the apple cities. The drawings and theoretical scenarios derived from them should be available in early autumn. Then Vogel wants to present them to the public.

Scientific monitoring can involve citizens

Even then, it will still be completely open to how the different scenarios in the operation of the dams will affect the Apple City. With scientific support in the form of monitoring, the ministry wants to systematically record the impact on the river.

In the spring of 2022, the District of Gotha announced that it wanted to commission an Apple Town water monitoring report. Vogel says talks are currently underway with the district about joint monitoring. And it announces that it will investigate how citizens could also engage in river observation and monitoring. Among other reasons, because of the citizens’ initiative “Lebensraum Apfelstädt” centered around Rico Heinemann, there was repeated accusation that the official state data regarding the water supply of the city of apples was incorrect.

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