The meaning behind water protection area signs

By Pia Amberger, Environmental Management Division, USAG Ansbach DPW

ANSBACH, Germany (April 7, 2017) — Have you ever driven on a German road, seen the road side sign (to the left), and wondered what it meant?

This blue traffic sign is an indicator for drivers that they are currently driving through a water protection area. This traffic sign is especially important for cars and trucks that are carrying water-endangering substances (pollutants, hazardous chemicals). It urges them to drive particularly carefully and forward-looking. Some roads through water protection areas can have a red circle version of this sign (to the right) that indicates that vehicles transporting water-endangering substances as cargo are prohibited from driving through that area.

But what exactly are water protection areas, you might ask?

In Germany and many other European countries, water protection areas are those in which special conditions and prohibitions are in place to protect water (groundwater, surface water, coastal water) against harmful influences. A German water protection area consists of three protection zones that differentiate between the water sources, including dams, groundwater/drinking water and lakes.

Water protection zone I:
Zone I covers the immediate water catchment area or drainage basin within a radius of at least 10 meters and, under certain conditions, up to 20 meters from the point of withdrawal (POW). If the water protection area is a dam, then Zone I includes the reservoir, the forebay, the bank surfaces and the top of the dam structure. Zone I is to be protected against all outside influences. Any change of use or the entry of unauthorized persons is prohibited in Zone I.

Water protection Zone II:
Zone II is the next area out from Zone I. The boundary determination is based on the distance it would take a contaminant to reach the POW in 50 days or more. This minimum duration is intended to protect the water from bacterial contamination and prevent diseases caused by pathogens. For a dam, the above-ground inlets, their springs and the surrounding terrain (often 100 meters wide) are also included in the protection area. As any usage of the ground is prohibited, there are several restrictions in place with regard to building and road construction or agriculture and especially fertilization with manure, liquid manure pesticides or insecticides.

Water protection Zone III:
Zone III covers the area from Zone II to the very edge of the catchment area (drainage basin) of the water source. If that edge is more than two kilometers away from the POW, the protection zone can be divided into Zone IIIA and IIIB. For Zone IIIA, the groundwater flow time has to be at least 500 days from the outer edge of the zone to the POW and for Zone IIIB the duration must be 2,500 to 3,500 days. Protection Zone III is intended to protect the groundwater against widespread impairment, in particular against non-degradable chemical or radioactive contamination. Activities such as dumping debris, waste materials or water-endangering substances, or the operation of sand and gravel pits and sewage plants, are strictly prohibited in this zone. The construction of industrial facilities or fuel depots is not permitted.

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