Mansfeld-Südharz (Sangerhausen), Saxony-Anhalt, Germany


The case study in Central Germany, where ‘regulate’ conducts inter- and transdisciplinary research, is located in the southern part of the state of Saxony-Anhalt. Within Mansfeld-Südharz county, the city of Sangerhausen has most recently been connected to an inter-basin water transfer scheme for drinking water supply. Mansfeld-Südharz is located in the lee of the Harz Mountains, resulting in a semi-arid climate with low precipitation (Hattermann et al. 2011). Nevertheless, due to the high-yield loess soils in the region, intensive agricultural production on a large scale is possible (mainly grain cultivation).

The switch from local groundwater resources for drinking water supply to an inter-basin water transfer scheme was triggered by locally degraded groundwater quality due to anthropogenic activities (nitrate) (Hahn et al. 2020) and geogenic sources (uranium) (Landesamt für Umweltschutz Sachsen-Anhalt), as well as drought conditions. This decision can be considered a common strategy of communes in Saxony-Anhalt to bypass local groundwater problems (quality, quantity, operating costs). As a result, drinking water now flows from a reservoir in the Harz Mountains (Landesamt für Umweltschutz Sachsen-Anhalt) . This implies a shift in local groundwater protection that no longer serves drinking water supply (e.g., cancellation of water protection areas), with potential negative effects on groundwater quality in the region. The above challenges lead to discussions about the reliability of the inter-basin water transfer scheme and about sustainable groundwater management in the future in general. For this reason, ‘regulate’ will explore the complexity of (ground)water management and the related negotiations between different stakeholders in Mansfeld-Südharz and the Harz Mountains.


The above complexities cannot be explored by researchers alone. Thus, the goal of our research in Mansfeld-Südharz / Sangerhausen is to develop long-term, sustainable, and integrated recommendations for groundwater management that engage local stakeholders in a collaborative process of knowledge production. Key questions for the research process are:

  • How do the demands of different stakeholders influence the relationship between groundwater quality and quantity?
  • What challenges does this pose for climate change adaptation issues and how can these be addressed?

Defining sustainable groundwater management from a telecoupling perspective substantially widens the lens to relevant processes. In this sense, we study the water supplied via the inter-basin water transfer scheme as the flow coupling the receiving system of the county to the sending system of the Harz Mountains. Here we aim to give suggestions for translating insights about dynamics (power-relations, conflicts, daily practices, institutions) for adaptive governance approaches. Together with stakeholders at the EU level, we aim to up-scale our findings in order to facilitate consideration of distal and cross-sectoral effects in the design of the EU groundwater policy beyond the phasing out of the EU Water Framework Directive in 2027.



  • Contribute insights into the telecoupling framework by considering physical water flows of the inter-basin water supply scheme
  • Regulatory strategies for dealing with unexpected changes in demand and supply and embracing uncertainties in decision-making

Quality (Groundwater ecology)

  • How to develop ecological groundwater fauna indicators that are applicable and reliable?
  • How can monitoring of groundwater fauna help to assess groundwater quality impairment due to anthropogenic stressors?
  • How do agricultural practices and associated pollution (e.g., nitrate, biocides, etc.) affect groundwater fauna?

Quantity (Socio-hydrology)

  • How do water demand and availability in the region change under different climate change scenarios, as well as consumption patterns?
  • What strategies could ensure sustainable (ground)water management and use in the future?
  • How do local stakeholders cope with uncertainties regarding groundwater management?
  • How do these uncertainties influence decision-making processes?

Conflicts (Political Ecology)

  • What conflicts arise between local stakeholders with the use of inter-basin water transfer schemes?

Institutions (European Ethnology)

  • In which contexts and how are different materialities (made) relevant?
  • To what extent are dis/continuities emerging in the drinking water organization?
  • How are groundwater(s) conceptualised and understandings of sustainability discussed?
  • Who works together to implement which understandings of sustainable groundwater management?
  • How do constructions of temporalities emerge in the discussion of sustainable groundwater management?