Telecoupling – a new challenge in the regulation of groundwater

In Europe, the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Groundwater Directive are comprehensive regulations compared to groundwater regulation in other parts of the world, but their 2027 objectives of ‘good chemical’ and ‘good quantitative status’ are unlikely to be achieved across the board. This is due to insufficient consideration of the interplay between groundwater availability, use and legal claims (social-ecological regulation), which is increasingly embedded in supra-regional cause-and-effect relationships. Vertical and horizontal integration across scales and policies, not least the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), is largely lacking. The aim of regulate is to understand the social-ecological regulation of groundwater in Europe against the background of increasing telecoupling and dynamic natural and social conditions. Telecoupling is understood as remote effects in social-ecological cause-effect relations. An example is nutrient overloading from manure that has been traded over large distances. The research in regulate is based on the hypothesis that ‘groundwater enters into new, complex functional relationships via telecoupling, so that a social-ecological regulation of the resource must be redefined via a relative understanding of space’ (Frick-Trzebitzky, Lütkemeier 2021) .

Photo: Room 76 Photography –

In a transdisciplinary process, researchers design approaches for adaptive governance together with stateholders. Guidelines for regulatory interventions that address telecouplings and dynamics such as climate change are of particular relevance to the design of European water policy for the period after 2027. The scientific innovation of our research in ‘regulate’ consists in the conceptualisation of telecouplings as a new understanding of space in social-ecological systems and their regulation, combining questions of applied and basic research.


Dr. Robert Lütkemeier
ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research /
Goethe University Frankfurt

Dr. Fanny Frick-Trzebitzky
ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research