Integrated Water and Soil Protection

Research activities focus on the protection and sustainable use of the natural resources of soil, water and vegetation. The emphasis is on water and wastewater infrastructure, agricultural irrigation, wastewater and sewage sludge treatment, use of organic residues and wastes, soil protection as well as reduction of nutrient surpluses.

 

The following is actively engaged in the research area:

  • Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering

 

What exactly is being researched:

The current focal points of this field of research are:

  • Networked system planning across sectors for water and wastewater infrastructure
  • Innovative strategies and technologies for demand-oriented agricultural irrigation, whilst protecting water resources
  • Innovative and energy-efficient technologies for wastewater and sludge treatment
  • Energy-based and material use of organic residues and wastes
  • Preventative and remedial protection of the soil
  • Reduction of nutrient surpluses

 

Researchers give an insight into their work

In interviews, the researchers present the research area and one of their research projects.

 

Integrated Water and Soil Protection - Dr. Sander Integrated Water and Soil Protection - Prof. Mennerich and Prof. Röttcher

Dr. Sander, Prof. Mennerich and Prof. Röttcher about the research area

"Our water supply is a great good"

Water is usually there in abundance – but not everywhere where it’s needed; and not always with the quality it should have. Dr. Hedda Sander and the Professors Klaus Röttcher and Artur Mennerich work in the research area “Integrated Water and Soil Protection” at Ostfalia. In this interview they talk about how they can can protect our water and how each of us can make a contribution. And they explain why their research is a beautiful job.

 


How are things going with our water?

Artur Mennerich: Expressed with some exaggeration, in Germany we live in paradise. We have a humid climate, so that over long periods of time plenty of new groundwater is always formed. We only use a fraction of this – for example to get drinking water. This water is of excellent quality. We can draw it from a great depth and put it into the water networks without a lot of preparation. But in the surface water and also in the upper groundwater layers we find anthropogenic influences that show us: Substances that we release into the environment come into the groundwater at some point. As water economists, it is our job to preserve the natural resource water in a good condition.

Klaus Röttcher: We realise that we need to deal with issues today that were not an issue previously. Overfertilisation with too much nitrate and phosphate in groundwater and surface water is a topic that we have not yet satisfactorily solved. Also we find traces of pesticides and medications in the water. In general, it takes very long until trace substances in the water have a negative impact and we can recognise what we are dealing with. So we should already remove all pollutants from the water today. Or even better: Not let them into the water in the first place.

Hedda Sander: Because these pollutants and nutrients alter the water quality and can lead to unwanted algae growth by eutrophication, an oversupply of nutrients. My research is phycology: the science of the algae. The Harz mountains, for example, are an old mining area. Even today, we have to deal with the consequences in the form of heavy metals that are detectable in the rivers. We are currently working on filters to help us cope with this legacy – with the help of algae. Cell components of them are apparently able to absorb these heavy metals.

 


How do you get the algae?

Hedda Sander: We have light incubators and photo-bioreactors in order to be able to breed our own algae on a large scale. Including those that have a particularly high heavy metal tolerance – we take good care of these. We also get our algae from other collections, such as the University of Göttingen and the University of Texas in Austin.

 


Which projects are you currently involved in?

Klaus Röttcher: We are preparing a large-scale project aiming to reduce the water consumption in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. If too much water is taken from the ground in coastal regions there, the sea water finds its way in. This can lead to farmers eventually needing to pump salt water in order to irrigate their agricultural land. If they don’t succeed in using their water resources more sustainably, whole areas could be lost.

Artur Mennerich: One of my projects focuses on biological wastewater treatment. We want to reduce power consumption and improve energy efficiency. Also the use of the energy contained in the waste water concerns us. The question here is: How can the treatment plant supply itself with energy to be self-sufficient?

Hedda Sander: I work essentially on inland lakes. In order to be able to monitor the water quality, we have introduced an app to the market. Using simple measuring data – for example, water temperature and phosphate content – it is possible to evaluate how much a swimming lake is affected by blue-green algae. And it can predict how the algae growth will develop in the near future.

 


Why is that important?

Hedda Sander: The algal blooms of blue-green algae produce toxins. These are organic toxic substances that can cause serious allergic reactions. In cooperation with our partner, the University of Wisconsin, we are enhancing the app – in the direction of artificial intelligence. We want the app to learn with each application.

 


What do you need in your field of research to move forward?

Klaus Röttcher: It is there in the name of our research area: We need integrated solutions. The networks we work in are decisive. Only by working together we can implement solutions, for example in cooperation with the local authorities and water associations.

Artur Mennerich: We need the discussion with other disciplines. And in international projects we need the close exchange with our foreign partners so that we can understand the requirements and develop a suitable concept. Systemic approaches play an important role in our research area.

 


Which developments pose a great danger for water?

Klaus Röttcher: 70 percent of global water consumption is accounted for by food production – and the proportion is increasing. To feed more and more people, we need more and more water. The global streams of refugees have something to do with water, too: with the insecurity of the supply and with the fact that living and environmental conditions are not sufficient. If we do not succeed in improving the supply, there will be new conflicts.

Artur Mennerich: In emerging and developing countries, it draws many people from rural areas into the cities, where they hope that things will be better. In a joint project with the participation of urban planners, we are examining how the infrastructure in fast-growing cities can grow along with them, so to speak, in order to secure the water supply and disposal.

 


How can each of us contribute to water and soil protection?

Klaus Röttcher: We must learn not to abuse the water as a route of disposal – for example, for medicines, paints and varnishes. Treatment plants are designed to separate organic materials from the waste water. In short: Drugs do not belong in the toilet, chemicals do not belong in the sink.

Artur Mennerich: We are one of the few countries in the world to have really excellent drinking water. I recommend drinking more tap water – instead of producing water in plastic bottles and then throwing the plastic away.

 


Why do you like the research area and your work?

Hedda Sander: In the summer of 2018, the heat was so great that you could observe how many streams dried out and our water plants and supply networks ran up against their limits because of the increased water demand. People were called to avoid washing their cars and watering their lawns so as not to exacerbate the bottleneck during peak consumption times. Many were suddenly made aware of how precious our water is. The protection of water is a particularly beautiful job.

 

 

Integrated Water and Soil Protection - Prof. Röttcher

Prof. Röttcher talks about the research project EIP-Agri

Do more with less – for the sustainable use of water

They form a team: Farmer Hartmut Becker from Uelzen and Klaus Röttcher, Professor for Hydraulic Engineering and Water Management at the Ostfalia campus in Suderburg. What brings them together are the questions: How can we manage to irrigate Hartmut Becker’s potato field as efficiently as possible? Under the condition that we want to ensure the yield and the quality and save water? Their joint research project provides the answers.

Hartmut Becker and Klaus Röttcher work together in the EU program European Innovation Partnership – Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-Agri). At the heart of their idea to do more with less is the sensor-based irrigation control for potatoes. Heat sensors provide information about the temperature of the plants and thus reveal how much water is needed. This technology is being investigated by one of the project partners, the Thünen Institute. Hartmut Becker and Klaus Röttcher are jointly examining how sensor-based irrigation control can best be integrated into the farmer's work processes –  with a view to increased efficiency and lower water consumption. 

The Chamber of Agriculture for Niedersachsen, the University of Göttingen and the Institute for Agricultural Technology of the Thünen Institute in Braunschweig complete the partnership from research and agricultural practice. With this project they have grown together into a strong network – also with a view to the future. In upcoming projects, the partners want to benefit from the grown structures. 

The project is supported with funds from the European Union and the state of Niedersachsen.

 

Prof. Dr. Klaus Röttcher, Ostfalia Faculty of Civil and Enviromental Engineering:

"In many regions of the earth water is scarce. The prudent and efficient use of water is therefore an important social issue. Our ambition is to use sustainable criteria to orient ourselves in agricultural water management, in short: to use the resource of water sparingly."

 

Dr. Jürgen Grocholl, head of the Uelzen District Office of the Niedersachsen Chamber of Agriculture:

"To ensure yield, agriculture is dependent on field irrigation. The importance of irrigation systems is even growing – through climate change and fluctuating weather conditions. In our project we want to improve irrigation control, so that in the future farmers can even better use the right amount of water at the right time."

 

European agricultural fonds

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