Flooding can be regarded as one of the most important natural hazards in Central Europe both in terms of casualties and damage to property. In Germany, the numerous flood events in the last decades—notably in 1993/1995 (Rhine river basin), 1997 (Oder), 1999 (Danube) and 2002 (Elbe)—have highlighted the need for action. In addition, there are more examples of flooding from all over Europe [1
]. The European Commission estimates that between 1998 and 2004, Europe suffered from over 100 major flood events causing 700 fatalities and insured economic losses of at least €25 billion [3
]. Flooding is also a potential threat to cultural heritage and the environment, causing damage that is difficult to quantify. Increasing human activity in flood-prone areas, environmental interventions such as river regulations, an increasing coverage of soil due to urbanization and construction and a trend towards more extreme weather events are thought to have contributed to the rising damage potential [2
Even though areas potentially affected by river floods are easy to locate and allow for a relatively long warning period, many municipalities and their residents are unprepared for flooding or even unaware of being at risk [6
]. In spite of numerous improvements in flood prevention, social scientists have repeatedly criticized the way flood risk is dealt with in Central Europe [7
]: It is only after harmful flooding that measures are taken in order to be better prepared for upcoming flood events. Along with this event-driven course of action, a hierarchical and sectoral planning with a strong focus on structural protection measures prevails. Especially in areas protected by dikes and thus perceived as “safe”, the remaining risk of extreme flood events is not being communicated which explains part of the low level of risk awareness among the local population and authorities. Furthermore, there is a lack of communication and cooperation across administrative borders, resulting in conflicts between upstream and downstream communities.
In this context, the European Directive on the Assessment and Management of Flood Risks (2007/60/EC) [9
] can make a significant contribution to modify the flood risk policy in Germany and other EU member states. Referring to an increase in damage caused by flooding all over Europe and to a lacking coordination between member states, the European Commission issued a communication on flood risk management in 2004 highlighting the need for further legal action. Following an intense consultation process involving member states, NGOs and the scientific community, a proposal for a directive was released in 2006. Within the formal consultation process, the directive passed through various European institutions with only minor modifications (e.g., better coordination between member states, more flexibility for the member states and stronger consideration of climate change) being made. Only 17 months after the first reading in the European Parliament, the Directive came into force on 26 November 2007 [10
The concept of the directive comprises three steps (Figure 1
). At first, member states are required to carry out a preliminary flood risk assessment
by 22 December 2011. Since measures cannot apply everywhere at the same time, this instrument allows to define those river sections which are currently regarded as flood-prone and need further risk appraisal. Secondly, member states have to provide flood hazard maps
and flood risk maps
for the previously defined zones until 22 December 2013. Flood hazard maps show the flood extent, water depths and flow directions/velocities for three different probability scenarios (high-, medium- and low-probability events), whereas flood risk maps refer to the number of inhabitants, economic activity, industries, cultural heritage and nature protection areas potentially affected by flooding. The third step of the directive is the preparation of flood risk management plans
(FRM plans) which consist of objectives and measures that shall be identified by the responsible institutions until 22 December 2015. All steps have to be reviewed and updated in a six-year cycle [9
The three implementation steps of the European Floods Directive.
The three implementation steps of the European Floods Directive.
Aiming at the reduction of the adverse consequences of flooding for human health, environment, cultural heritage and economic activity (and not at avoiding floods or fighting against them), the directive calls for a new culture of dealing with flood risks. It takes into account the above-mentioned scientific advice from the frontline of research and offers the possibility to reorganize flood risk policy in Germany and other EU member states. Not only will extreme events systematically be taken into consideration; modifications also include an enhancement of non-structural measures, catchment-based approaches, interdisciplinary planning, and bottom-up elements such as stakeholder participation. Consequently, the directive brings about a paradigm shift in the way we handle floods and offers the chance to establish a risk culture and a policy change from the prevalent flood protection to a holistic flood risk management (FRM).
In European environmental policy there is a trend towards a shift from classical government instruments to new modes of governance including bottom-up approaches, stakeholder participation and multilevel and cross-sector coordination [11
]. Instead of command-and-control instruments with clearly defined objectives in the form of facts and figures, the new European environmental policy leans towards a management approach, i.e.
, member states are obliged to set up plans and programs and define their own objectives. This trend is criticized especially in the German water law discourse, e.g., by Reinhardt [12
] who worries about the high transaction costs for the development of the plans without clear goals like defined security levels.
Whereas participation has a long-standing tradition in FRM in Anglo-Saxon countries [13
], there is however, still a deficit in parts of continental Europe. In Germany, a current renaissance of participation can be observed as shown by the conflict about the “Stuttgart 21” railway project that sparked off protests of unexpected intensity and led to a referendum. This current debate in Germany offers the chance to actually implement intensive participation processes, as it opens a window of opportunity facilitating a higher level of acceptance towards participation among decision-makers.
This raises the question as to whether decision-makers within the German water authority are willing to accept modifications to the established flood policy and share responsibility or if they are reluctant to effectively implement some of the newly-introduced requirements and, thus, weakening the central idea of the directive by a pro-forma implementation. Besides, there are questions regarding practical problems such as the spatial scope of FRM plans or the intended forms and intensities of stakeholder participation. The aim of this article is to give an overview of trends in how best to implement the FRM directive in Germany, in addition to its level of acceptance and key implementation success factors that are transferable to other member states. The main research question is whether the directive can permanently modify the way our society deals with flood risk. Case studies and examples help to point out the direction the different German federal states have taken.
First, the floods directive will be analyzed and classified with regard to the concepts of security approach
and risk approach
]. Parallels and differences to the risk governance
model are revealed. According to the discourse on a policy change from government
to new modes of governance
, a systematic risk governance concept as described by the International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) can prove helpful to effectively manage flood risk [15
]. The empirical section of the implementation study consists of two case studies. Since federal states are responsible for environmental policy, Case 1 gives examples from several German Länder
with a focus on the Rhine catchment and aims to describe the willingness of change among decision-makers. Case 2 focuses on a possible implementation strategy for the FRM plans in Bavaria which could be helpful elsewhere. Methods applied for the two case studies involve expert interviews, in-depth online documentary research and workshops with different participants including planning simulation games. Finally, there will be a conclusion whether the directive is likely to remodel flood policy in Germany.
2. A Paradigm Shift in German Flood Policy?
] argues that the FRM directive is the starting point for a paradigm shift in German flood policy—a change that traces back to a discourse initiated in Switzerland in the 1990s [16
]. In Germany, the Federal Water Act (WHG) pursued a “security approach
” until 2010, whereas the EU FRM directive and the March 2010 amendment to the Federal Water Act have introduced new standards mainly following a “risk approach
”. The directive also introduces aspects of the “risk governance
” concept according to the International Risk Governance Council (IRGC). In this chapter, the perspectives and principles of risk and security approach and of the risk governance concept are presented. Subsequently, the previous and updated versions of the Federal Water Act are assessed against the background of the described concepts.
As its name already indicates, the security approach
) aims to protect the society from flood hazards. Flooding is regarded as a process of the natural sphere, whereas social aspects leading to an increase in damage potential are not systematically taken into account. Suggested solutions are predominantly structural measures (levees) or top-down restrictions (designation of flood zones with land-use restrictions) oriented at a standardized level of protection (usually the 100-year flood, a medium-probability flood event in terms of the floods directive). Critics complain that, in doing so, the State creates a line of demarcation between risk areas and officially “safe” areas. As the residual risk of extreme flood events, dike failure or flooding of “protected” areas caused by groundwater or sewerage systems is not communicated; citizens and businesses in those areas are unaware of being at risk and accumulate remarkable amounts of values. This increase of damage potential in “protected” areas is also referred to as “safe development paradox” [17
] or “levee effect” [18
]. Furthermore, there is evidence that the damage potential is at its highest directly behind the boundary line of designated risk zones [20
]. In case of extreme flood events such as 2002 in the Elbe river basin, municipalities and citizens in those zones are unable to cope with the situation instead of taking effective mitigation measures [7
Comparison of security approach and risk approach [14
Comparison of security approach and risk approach .
|Main characteristics||Security approach||Risk approach|
|Aim||protection against threat emanating from flood events||develop a strategy how to handle flood risk, define which level of risk is acceptable|
|Terminology||danger, threat, security, protection||risk, residual risk, risk evaluation, risk management, risk governance|
|Scenarios||medium-probability events (HQ100) as the standard level of protection||high-/medium- and low-probability events, priorities regarding level of protection|
|Measures||focus on structural measures||combination of structural and non-structural measures|
|Involved parties||sectoral planning (water authority), top-down, implementation gap||interdisciplinary, bottom-up elements|
|Spatial focus||local solutions for local problems, oriented at administrative borders||across administrative borders, catchment-based|
|Time aspect||short-term solutions, event-driven, “trial and error”||medium-/long-term solutions, prevention, regular revisions|
Another characteristic of the security approach is a strongly hierarchical planning system that lacks interdisciplinary coordination. Due to a long transfer of responsibility from local actors to state actors in flood management [6
], the water authority has a strong influence in terms of legal competences and financial resources [21
]. Feeling they know best which measures to take, the experts of the water authorities decide in a top-down manner and concede other stakeholders such as regional planners or municipalities little influence. This leads to a lack of implementation as stakeholders do not identify with imposed measures. Another drawback of the security approach is the lack of cross-border coordination which results in the so-called “upstream-downstream conflict” [22
]: Upstream municipalities take own measures that increase flood risk for downstream river sections or refuse to provide retention areas since they do not benefit from them. Thus, the spatial focus of the security approach is rather local. Moreover, “in many basins (...) it appears that the decisions are very much driven by events. In the aftermath of major floods, far reaching decisions are often made and implemented swiftly” [1
In contrast, the risk approach aims to establish a risk discourse among the society of a region in order to come to a common conclusion as to how flood risk should be dealt with. This implies, in particular, a transparent risk communication. Authorities have to provide potentially affected people and enterprises with consistent information regarding the risk of extreme flood events, i.e.
, they have to avoid guaranteeing “absolute security” [23
]. In Southern Germany, however, the term “Hochwasserfreilegung” (=freeing an area from the flood hazard) is still frequently used. In the risk management cycle not only natural processes, but also social aspects as damage potential and vulnerability are analyzed. The wide variety of possible mitigation measures—including improved warning systems or disaster relief trainings—should be evaluated by a cost benefit or multi criteria analysis [24
] leading to a higher level of protection for highly vulnerable areas such as major cities or industrial areas and a lower level of protection for sparsely-populated rural zones.
In case of the floods directive, the initiated planning process resembles the risk governance concept
as described by the International Risk Governance Council [15
]. Risk governance is a model consisting of four steps that aim to develop a strategy which defines how a state, region or society wants to deal with risk (Figure 2
). It has initially been developed for technological risks, but can be transferred to natural risks as well. First, a pre-assessment
or framing is carried out in order to define a frame of reference for the following risk assessment and management. The first step of flood risk management is to define zones or areas with a medium or high flood risk.
Comparing the risk governance concept [25
] to the floods directive.
Comparing the risk governance concept [25
] to the floods directive.
Secondly, in the course of risk appraisal, risk is described in its spatio-temporal patterns, which involves a detailed description of the occurrence probability of natural processes (including worst-case scenarios) as well as the vulnerability of the society described by the damage potential. The risk appraisal is carried out by experts since it aims to provide “objective” expertise for upcoming decisions. This step is also the second step of the floods directive. While the flood hazard maps have to include all necessary information (e.g., water depths for the different scenarios), the flood risk maps give a rather superficial overview which reduces the usability for cost benefit analysis or emergency planning. The third step is called risk evaluation and envisions an evaluation of risk compared to the effort needed for its reduction. It seeks to answer the question: “Which (residual) risk is acceptable?” Since evaluation always implies a certain level of subjectiveness (i.e., there are different interests among the different groups of a society), experts cannot carry out an evaluation on their own. In contrast, stakeholder groups of the civil society have to be given a chance to participate. The final step is risk management and comprises of a decision-making process among all stakeholder groups, which results in a common strategy of how to deal with risk. In the floods directive these two steps are combined. All four steps ideally go along with a coherent risk communication which is also addressed in article 10 of the directive.
Regarding the Federal Water Act (Wasserhaushaltsgesetz) in Germany after the amendments in 1996 and 2005, there are numerous standards that can be assigned to the security approach. For decades, technical flood protection designed for a 100-year flood event has been the most important measure adopted against flooding. A second strategy was to designate flood plains (in most cases, again, for a 100-year flood event) that go along with land-use restrictions. The 2005 amendment was the first to introduce a new zoning category for areas that can be flooded in case of low-probability floods or levee failure (§ 31b WHG 2005) [26
]. It also provided a new instrument called “flood protection plans” (§ 31c WHG 2005) [26
] which, on the one hand aimed to sum up measures on the catchment-scale, but on the other hand referred exclusively to the 100-year flood event. In fact, online research for Case Study II has shown that there are not many flood protection plans developed up to now.
The date of the 2005 amendment is no coincidence and proves the event-driven course of action in German flood policy. Corresponding with the Sir Michael Pitt Review in England (one year after the 2007 floods) and the report of the Flood Policy Review Group in Ireland (shortly after the 2002 floods) [27
], it was the 2004 DKKV report on “lessons learned from the 2002 disaster” [7
] that triggered off the adjustments to the German flood policy in 2005. In the transposition of the EU floods directive into the Federal Water Act (2010 amendment), there are some pitfalls to the FRM approach. First, the headline “flood protection” (and not
“flood risk management”) can be seen as a legacy of the security approach. Another drawback, which is contrary to the risk approach, is the fact that (according to § 75 II WHG) [29
] FRM plans have to refer at least to a 100-year flood event, i.e.
, the low-probability scenario is optional.
Altogether, it seems that the implementation of the flood risk directive does mark a turnaround in German flood policy. Even though the new German legislation differs in a few points from the risk approach, newly-introduced standards such as a systematic risk mapping, a holistic combination of measures and an intense participation of interested parties are a valuable complement to existing instruments. Since the directive and its transposition into German environmental legislation, when compared to the water framework directive, is less formalized, there is some leeway for interpretation making it depend on the decision-makers how effectively the risk approach will be implemented. This will be analysed in the following sections.
The empirical part of this study is divided into two case studies. Case I gives an overview on the implementation of the FRM directive in Germany and is focused on the level of acceptance among decision-makers in the administration of different federal states. It is based on a 10-month study at the Geography department of the University of Bonn [30
]. Case 2 gives a more detailed insight into problems and key factors at implementing the new regulations on FRM in Bavaria. Here, research was carried out in the context of a one-year project that aimed to develop a strategy for implementing FRM plans on behalf of the Bavarian administration. In both cases, qualitative methods including documentary research, expert interviews and stakeholder workshops were applied.
Since the implementation of the directive is responsibility of the federal states and has to be oriented at hydrological catchments, the German part of the Rhine river basin was chosen as an area of investigation. From October to December 2009, 17 interviews were carried out with experts from the six federal states Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and North Rhine-Westphalia. Interview partners were professionals from the water authority (ministries of the environment, environmental agencies, regional governments), municipalities (flood partnerships, head organizations of municipalities) and other catchment-based institutions (International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine, local water boards). In 2010/2011, the findings from the Rhine river basin were complemented by three more expert interviews with a focus on the role of flood partnerships and their role at implementing FRM plans in Southwestern Germany as well as online documentary research on implementation strategies in other German and European river basins.
Case Study II has been carried out by the Chair of Forest and Environmental Policy of the Technische Universität München within a project funded by the Bavarian Ministry of Environment. The project ran from March 2010 to March 2011 and aimed to develop an implementation concept for FRM plans with intense stakeholder participation on the level of “partnership” as defined by Arnstein [31
]. Therefore, online research, expert interviews and FRM workshops were arranged. The interview part comprised of nine qualitative interviews with several institutions on “lessons learned” from the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, Habitats Directive and Birds Directive in Bavaria as well as 14 interviews on FRM with representatives from the administration and stakeholder groups in the Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz) region. Additionally, four FRM workshops were carried out—two of them with professionals from the water authority and two with other stakeholder groups (regional planning, municipalities, civil protection, agriculture, nature protection, industry and citizens’ groups). The workshops involved between 30 and 50 participants each and included interactive sessions with planning simulations and role-play. The concept developed within the project does not apply to the Bavarian part of the Main river basin since the transitory clause of Art. 13 FRM directive was used here so that a FRMP could be created with reduced participation. However, there are plans to apply the described strategy here in the second implementation cycle after 2015.
The qualitative methods were carried out according to high scientific standards [32
]. Since the implementation of the floods directive will not be completed until December 2015, the findings cannot give an exhaustive overview on the strategy in every federal state. Also, there is no guarantee for a 1:1 implementation of the concept for FRM plans in Bavaria developed by the Technische Universität München. However, the authors of this article believe that conclusions in terms of the general reaction of decision-makers towards the flood risk management directive can be drawn and that the present findings are suitable for pointing out key factors for a successful implementation.
All over Europe traces of a paradigm shift from the security approach to the risk approach can be discerned [44
]. Nevertheless, an approach for both analysis and management of flooding explicitly based on the concept of risk
is rarely applied [44
]. This can be regarded as an advantage of the directive to provide a coherent framework for the ongoing modification processes of flood policy in the European Union member states. The high level of acceptance towards the risk management approach of the floods directive can not only be found by the authors in the Rhine river basin, but also during the internet consultation process for the directive in 2005 [45
However, Case Study I has shown that decision-makers in the federal states have different point of views regarding the willingness to accept far-reaching modifications in flood policy. Owing to the tight deadlines, it may prove difficult to create FRM plans that do not only serve the purpose of a pro forma implementation but also serve the need to change the existing flood policy. The Directive’s limitation to framework/process requirements and its abstract objective are a drawback and advantage at the same time. This entails leeway for interpretation that could lead to contradictory information in border regions but also allows implementation strategies that match the particular circumstances of countries or federal states. The implementation of the FRM directive in Germany and other European countries is likely to make important changes to the way flood risk is perceived and dealt with. It introduces standards of the risk approach and is a further step towards a risk governance culture. However, it can be expected that within the short time frame, not all of the features of the risk approach will be implemented in a satisfactory manner in the first implementation cycle. The constant revision of the three steps of FRM is, therefore, an advantage that offers member states to improve their flood policy step by step—also after the completion of the first FRM plans in 2015.
The implementation of FRM standards can also lead to a combination of traditional approaches to avoiding floods, complemented by effective measures that help to counter drawbacks of these concepts such as the levee effect [18
]—it does not have to be one or the other. If responsible agencies continue to provide 100-year flood protection structures for built-up areas, but additionally conduct disaster relief trainings and provide information campaigns highlighting the residual risks that these structures can be flooded in case of extreme events, great achievements can be obtained.
Based on the findings from Bavaria, the following recommendations for the process of creating FRM plans can be made:
Spatial scale of FRM plans
: It is important to find the right balance between a focus on the catchment-level and a reasonable stakeholder participation. Local actors have problems to think on a catchment-level. A multi-level approach as suggested for Bavaria and also found in Scotland [38
] might be useful for other countries.
Interested parties: All stakeholder groups should be given the opportunity to have their say. There should be intense participation in particular for municipalities. It is a crucial challenge to guarantee that stakeholders contribute by suggesting measures in their own field of responsibility instead of leaning back and relying on others.
Role of water authority: The role of the water authority in FRM planning is multi-faceted. At times, it is helpful to adopt the role of an expert who is not the sole responsible for all decisions.
Participation method: In addition to formal consultation, there should be participation methods that allow stakeholders to leave room for developing measures and entering into dialogue. Ticking a box on a list of measures is not likely to increase the chances of implementation. More progressive methods like the “future workshop” are promising tools for participation.
Communication: Communication has a key role: A consistent strategy for communication supports effective FRM and facilitates making modifications to existing practices.
Other recommendations: The general framework should be kept in mind by decision-makers for the long run. They should support modifications (e.g., conflict-solving strategies, modifications to funding-systems, as an incentive for participation in FRM planning).
In the best of cases, FRM planning is carried out in reasonably divided catchments and under participation of all stakeholder groups concerned with flood risk. Administration and stakeholder groups enter in dialogue and establish a target-oriented strategy on how to deal with flood risk. Although FRM is not likely to be implemented right out of the textbook in less than five years, it is a fundamental change in strategy with an impact that can be observed in the next years. Taking this into account the authors share the opinion that the directive offers the opportunity to lastingly modify the way our society deals with flood risk.