Dredging floated as low Rhine water levels hit German industry

Dredging floated as low Rhine water levels hit German industry

While many people are enjoying the hot weather in Germany, the persistent high temperatures and lack of rain could have dramatic consequences for the economy. The water level on the River Rhine - one of the country’s most important transport arteries - has been dropping for weeks. Ministers have floated the idea of dredging the river to future-proof it against climate change. 

Rhine water levels drop as heatwaves and droughts grip Europe

Heatwaves and droughts are drying up Europe’s rivers, including the River Rhine in Germany, which is one of the most vital waterways in the continent for freight transport. As the level of the water drops, barges need to reduce their cargo load in order to navigate the river. At some points, where the level is particularly low, some types of ship cannot pass at all.

“[The water level is] unusually low for the season,” Christian Hellbach from the Waterway and Shipping Authority in Cologne told DW. “Normally, the low water days for the Rhine begin in July and reach their peak in September and October.” At this time of year, the average depth of the river is usually two metres, according to ARD, but in some places it has fallen below one metre, and it’s as low as 56 centimetres near Koblenz in Rhineland-Palatinate.

Roberto Spranzi from the DTG German Inland Navigation Association told DW that professional shippers represented by the organisation were currently having to reduce their cargo load to around 50 percent of usual levels. On some sections, capacity has been reduced to 25 to 35 percent.

Since around 195 million tons of cargo are transported via German rivers each year, this all has an impact on an economy that is only just recovering from the coronavirus crisis - reducing the supply of coal to power plants in Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia, forcing them to cut production of electricity, throttling supplies just as businesses are trying to build up reserves, and pushing up prices, since companies are forced to use more ships to transport the same amount of goods. 

Transport minister wants to secure German economy by dredging Rhine

To better arm Germany for future bouts of hot weather and minimal precipitation, Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing has called for the Rhine to be dredged to allow for more ships to pass through it. As part of its grander green switchover plan, the government also wants to shift more goods transportation from the roads to railways and waterways.

The project, which would last until the early 2030s, would cost an estimated 180 million euros and see the Rhine deepened at various pinch points.

The last major drought in 2018 saw the Rhine dip to historic low levels. According to Nils Jannse, an economic expert at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), the disruption this caused to freight transport saw industrial production fall by around 1,5 percent at its peak. 



Abi Carter

Managing Editor at IamExpat Media. Abi studied German and History at the University of Manchester and has since lived in Berlin, Hamburg and Utrecht, working since 2017 as a writer,...

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