Peter Hamel doesn’t want to waste any time. He is standing in front of the driveway to his farm with a piece of paper in his hand. The paper shows the monthly rainfall in his village. The farmer runs his finger over the table. The difference to the previous year is noted in the last column. Hamel reports: “In May minus 27 liters per square meter, in June minus 52 liters.”
What this drought means in practice becomes clear when you look at the slope behind Hamel’s farm. The entire pasture has dried up, the withered stalks are dark yellow. The newly planted trees, which are supposed to provide shade for the animals, have also died. The 57 dairy cows stand in the barn and eat hay. There isn’t much left for them to do on the pasture.
Hamel says that this year he will probably have to switch to winter feeding in midsummer. He picks up a lump of dirt from the ground and rubs it between his fingers. Hamel says: “It’s too late.” Even if it suddenly rained, the dried-up ground could no longer absorb the rain. The water would then just flow down the slope.
“This dryness, it knocks you out”
Hamel is the eighth generation to run his farm in Storndorf in the Vogelsberg district. New photovoltaic systems are currently being installed on the stable roof, there is a cistern system and a composting stable. Hamel has also tried to adapt in the fight against drought. He is now planting grasses with deeper roots and new crops. Hamel points to the field behind him and says: “We’ve really tried everything here – but you can’t do anything about it. This dryness blows you away.”
Climate change threatens to make dry summers like this the new normal in Germany. The withdrawal of water from bodies of water has been banned in some municipalities since May. Many German cities get a large part of their drinking water from distant sources. Who has priority when water runs out?
The drought is also affecting many others in the Vogelsberg district. It has hardly rained in the past few weeks, which is why the streams have too little water, and nature is suffering. As early as mid-June, the district administration banned the withdrawal of water from streams, rivers and lakes. In the years 2018, 2019 and 2020, politicians reacted in this way to the lack of precipitation in the summer.
The Vogelsberg with its volcanic rock is actually considered a water-rich region. The sea air coming from the Atlantic rains down here as uphill rain. Numerous streams and rivers lead into the valley in all directions. However, the city of Frankfurt also became aware of the abundance of water early on. As early as the 1870s, the first pipes were laid to pump water from the damp Vogelsberg to Frankfurt. To this day, around 40 million cubic meters of water flow through kilometers of underground pipes every year.
In the past, increases in production have led to conflicts. In the 1970s, so much water was pumped out that the groundwater level in Nidda dropped by eight meters. The foundations of many houses gave way, settlement cracks appeared in the walls. In addition, moors and biotopes were drained. In the 1990s, after protests, the production volumes were drastically reduced, and since then the focus has been on environmentally friendly groundwater extraction. A third of Frankfurt’s drinking water still comes from the Vogelsberg.
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