Research Area:
Environmental Risks in Urban and Regional Development

"Flood originating areas" in law and practice – interim review

Flood originating area Geising-Altenberg (Photo: Marco Neubert)
View to the Geisingberg in Altenberg

As a response to the 2002 catastrophic flooding, the Saxon Water Act of 2004 introduced a new category of protected area, so-called flood originating areas (Hochwasserentstehungsgebiete). These category is assigned to headwater catchments in upland and highland regions as source areas of flooding where surface runoff during heavy rainfall events or springtime thawing greatly increases the likelihood of downstream flooding, presenting a significant threat to public safety and order (cf. Section 100b, Para. 1 Saxon Water Act). Such flood originating areas can be seen as the counterpart to flood retention areas in lowlands: Whilst the latter serve to retain floods, the former are those areas where floods originate.

Although the concept of flood originating areas is certainly a novelty in the field of German water law, and one that could be of interest not only to other federal states (Länder) in Germany with upland/highland regions as an instrument to increase flood prevention, it is scarcely discussed outside Saxony, and has not been incorporated into the water laws of other federal states or indeed in the German Federal Water Act. At the same time this instrument has been implemented in Saxony: Two flood originating areas have already been designated, and preparations are already under way for the designation of additional areas. These developments are an inducement to take a closer look at the legal and technical preconditions of flood originating areas, before undertaking an interim review of the current situation.

This project examined the legal, planning and technical requirements in the field of land use, as well as the practical implementation in the administrative process. In addition to their use as farmland and woodland, flood originating areas frequently possess valuable ecological functions, particularly as wildlife habitats. Measures undertaken in flood originating areas should therefore be examined not merely in terms of their hydrological impact but also their compatibility with other forms and functions of land use. In fact there exist a whole range of synergies, for example regarding the improvement of water retention in river basins, the maintenance of water purity or the prevention of soil erosion. At the same time such measures can be a source of conflict, for example when ecologically valuable areas are planted with woodland in order to boost water retention. In order to be able to examine these issues in sufficient detail, the project adopted an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates not only legal and planning know-how but also expertise and experience from the environmental sciences, in particular hydrology and ecology.


1/2011 bis 12/2013


Dr. Juliane Albrecht
Tel. +49 351 46 79 223