Recklinghausen/Bonn Very dry soil, too little rain for months. And nature is far from digesting the three dry summers from 2018 to 2020. Farmers, foresters and firefighters are feeling the effects of the drought.
Deeply parched soil after three summers of drought, worried gazes of farmers and foresters skyward – and so far there are no signs of heavy rains. Summer has NRW firmly under control, at the start of the week temperatures in NRW are expected to be well above 30 degrees. Even if the situation is not as threatening as in the hot and extreme summers of 2018, 2019 and 2020, the high temperatures and the lack of precipitation pose problems and dangers for North Rhine-Westphalia.
After a far too dry start to autumn and winter in 2021, there was again too little precipitation in the spring of this year (March to May) in NRW with around 130 liters of rain per square meter. The long-term annual average is 205 litres. In mid-May, powerful thunderstorms swept across the country, causing local flooding and massive tornadoes. Such heavy downpours are of no use for the ground, which has dried up to the depths, because the water cannot be absorbed so quickly, explains Wilhelm Deitermann of the National Environment Agency NRW.
Where’s the worst?
The “Drought Monitor” of the renowned Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research is currently reporting extraordinary drought – the highest of five levels – especially in the administrative districts of Münster, Detmold and Arnsberg. This refers to soil depths of up to 1.80 meters, from which tree roots draw water. If you look at the water reserves at a lower depth of up to 25 centimeters, which the plants can absorb, according to the monitor, large areas of the Rhineland also suffer from drought stress or receive almost no fresh water .
Do you see this in nature?
On its “Drought pictures” page, the research center documents the following in recent years: For example, a completely dried out meadow in front of the Aachener Weiher in Cologne, extensive stands of dead spruces in the Bergisches Land, the Rhine near Düsseldorf with an extremely low water level and an almost completely dried up Heve stream, a tributary of the Möhnesee. This could happen again if it continues to rain far too little. As of the week that was ending, the THW had to artificially supply oxygen to a large water retention basin in Dortmund because fish had died there due to the heat and the drought.
The farmers’ associations in the Rhineland and Westphalia-Lippe are quite satisfied with the grain harvest so far – most of the barley has been harvested. But they worry about corn, sugar beets and potatoes if it stops raining. Maize in particular is important for farmers – for biogas plants and for feeding cattle and pigs, says Westphalian-Lippe association spokesman Hans-Heinrich Berghorn. In the Rhineland, some farmers have even started to irrigate their maize fields, explains his colleague from the Rhineland Simone Kühnreich.
In the forests of NRW, more than a tenth of the trees have died since 2018 due to the triad damage caused by storms, drought and bark beetle infestation, said Friedrich Louen, spokesman for the national society of forests and timber of NRW. In many cases, new plants are planted – and tender new trees are in dire need of water. “We are grateful for every drop of water that does not fall as heavy rain,” says Louen, “for the acute care of the trees and for the replenishment of water reserves in the forest.”
Do we have enough drinking water for the summer?
The supply of drinking water for the summer is assured despite the persistent heat. The filling levels of the dams are sufficient, says the managing director of the NRW water management associations, Jennifer Schäfer-Sack. The fact that most dams currently release far more water than flow is seasonal and normal. Nevertheless, drinking water should be used sparingly. The Wupperverband had recently claimed this.
The danger of forest fires is extreme at the moment due to heat, wind and drought, warns Düsseldorf fire director Ulrich Cimolino. This applies, among other things, to the border with the Harz mountains as well as in the Eifel and Sauerland. “Forest areas that have already been damaged by bark beetles and previous storms are particularly at risk,” explains the specialist, wildfire expert at the Association for the Promotion of German Fire Protection (vfdb). Fires are often caused by problems with machinery during harvest. “A small spark is enough to set fire to a straw baler, for example.”