Citizens' dialogue on water and soil

26. March 2023
Ministerium für Umwelt, Klima und Energiewirtschaft Baden-Württemberg

On 25 March 2023, a randomly selected dialogue forum in the German state of Baden-Württemberg presented its key messages to Environment Minister Thekla Walker and other members of the state parliament's Environment Committee.

The dialogue forum was part of a process by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Environment to develop a future strategy for water and soil. The aim was to bring together the various specialist projects under one roof and to establish accompanying public participation on these important issues.

Randomly selected citizens invited

The Ministry of the Environment invited randomly selected citizens to the dialogue forum. The aim was to represent Baden-Württemberg's diverse society and to discuss important issues together. The Ministry of the Environment was interested in the participants' requirements for the design of shared open spaces in connection with the storage of rainwater in villages and towns and also in the communication channels used by the population during flood situations.

A kick-off event on 15 October 2022 in Stuttgart offered the opportunity to talk directly to employees of the Ministry of the Environment and to prepare for the upcoming workshops. The kick-off event was followed by three online workshops in which participants were able to discuss specific topics and key questions and contribute their perspectives and ideas. The key messages developed were then presented at a closing event in Stuttgart.

Key messages

One of the key messages of the dialogue forum in the area of flooding was that interest in this topic often only arises when people are personally affected. Floods must therefore be made an everyday topic and prevention should become routine. The forum participants recommended that information on this topic should be more accessible and understandable for citizens.

In the event of flooding, the dialogue forum suggests combining old and new technologies. Apps and text messages are useful warning systems, but sometimes the siren is needed first. The information should be easy to understand and the responsibilities on site should be clear to everyone.

Awareness of the value of water

When it comes to low water levels, awareness of the value and scarcity of water is key for the dialogue forum. This also has an impact on the acceptance of price and categorisation according to importance. The forum participants recommend reaching out to target groups and making the topic tangible.

Price increases would have an impact on consumption, but attention should be paid to the consequences in the private and industrial sectors (product costs). Savings opportunities should also be exploited in the private sector according to the principle of "demand and support". An early warning system and awareness-raising could contribute to the acceptance of the categorisation of measures according to their importance.

Preserving and expanding green spaces

The dialogue forum also addressed the question of how water can be retained in towns and villages. The forum participants suggested reducing building density and preserving and expanding green spaces. The necessary car traffic should also be considered, but should be reduced overall. Traffic and car park areas should be used as retention basins.

Urban greenery must be made visible, usable and tangible for the general public. Awareness of the benefits of urban greenery should be created. Shops and restaurants should be preserved.

Apply the sponge city principle

The dialogue forum believes that the sponge city principle should be applied to new buildings. Sponge city is an urban planning concept that aims to collect and store as much rainwater and surface water as possible on site instead of simply channelling and draining it away The forum participants believe that private individuals and businesses should be taken into consideration here. Sites should be considered as a whole with incentives and obligations, which together should fulfil their effect for a sponge city. Local authorities and developers should both be held accountable.

When it comes to soil protection, the dialogue forum agrees that soil needs a lobby to change behaviour with regard to waste, fertilisation/spraying in gardens and land consumption. In contrast to water, soil is hardly associated with personal experience in everyday life. Activities should therefore be linked to direct experience.

Local authorities should control land consumption

Local authorities should actively control land consumption, prevent land speculation and utilise brownfield sites. Awareness of land consumption should also be raised among private individuals, e.g. by local authorities informing building families about the topic.

The dialogue forum sees the renaturation of water bodies as a benefit for people, animals and flora. Practicable regulations are needed so that animals and humans can live well together. Business and society need to get more in touch with nature, for example through sponsorships and campaigns in schools.

More information and offers

The state and local authorities need to provide more information and concrete programmes to get citizens involved. Personal initiative is also important. This could be increased through incentives. Local authorities should exchange more information with each other and share their knowledge.

A total of 30 towns and municipalities in Baden-Württemberg were randomly selected for the Water and Soil Dialogue Forum. A random sample of residents in the selected municipalities was contacted. The random sample was carried out by the residents' registration offices according to the percentage age distribution in the population. The age group of 16 to 25-year-olds was increased by the percentage of the population aged between 0 and 16.

"Open-minded, benevolent atmosphere"

Participants in the dialogue forum felt that their invitation was greatly appreciated. The participants were "given the chance to contribute their own ideas and perhaps make a difference", said one participant. "I was particularly surprised by the variety of different perspectives, opinions, personalities and backgrounds of the participants," explained another participant. A third participant praised the "open-minded, benevolent atmosphere". She hopes "that a lot of what we have worked out will be implemented".

Information will be provided shortly on how the results of the dialogue forum have been incorporated into the specialist projects and the day-to-day work of the Ministry of the Environment.

Read more: Dialogue Forum Water and Soil