ZuWaKo: Future water conflicts in Germany


As a consequence of climate change, conflicts over groundwater and surface water are also expected to increase in Germany in the future. As part of the Ladenburger Kolleg of the Daimler and Benz Foundation, a joint project coordinated by ZIRIUS is researching these possible conflicts. With the help of participatory modeling and serious gaming, future contexts and actor strategies are examined in their interactions.

Project funding

Ladenburger Kolleg, Daimler und Benz Stiftung

Project duration

September 2022 to August 2025

Motivation and research questions

As a consequence of climate change, heat waves, drought, but also heavy rainfall events are already being felt in Germany today. These phenomena will intensify in the future. For this reason, we expect water stress - at least locally and seasonally - in Germany, originally water-rich, due to falling groundwater and surface water levels with constant or rising consumption. This may exacerbate existing conflicts between industry, water management/households, agriculture, and ecosystems, or create new conflicts over the protection, distribution, and use of surface and groundwater resources.

Future water conflicts in Germany have hardly been a social science research topic so far. In particular, there are still no systematic analyses and no prospective studies, i.e. studies that anticipate possible futures, focusing not only on the effects of climate change but also on actors' decisions and, above all, their interplay as well as possible conflicts between actors' strategies. There is also a lack of offers for professional users from science, administration, and practice to systematically run through scenarios as well as options for action and their consequences, and to support the development of coherent strategies. Finally, there are already several simulation games or serious games in the field of water, but so far, they do not focus on the complexity, i.e. the multi-layered interactions between environmental factors and actors' strategies in water conflicts. This is where our research project comes in.

We ask:

  • What influence will future contexts as climate change, among others, have on future water conflicts in Germany?
  • How will future strategies and decisions of various social actors affect conflict situations?
  • Which combinations of strategies and measures (policies) can exacerbate or mitigate future water conflicts?

How can cross-impact balance analysis (CIB) in the form of participatory modeling and simulation games be used to support actors in anticipating conflicts and forming strategies?


We want to explore these questions around possible future water conflicts in Germany with potentially affected people as well as interested actors within the framework of an interdisciplinary approach and make them tangible through qualitative system analysis. To this end, we are planning a total of three case studies. First, we want to develop qualitative models of possible future water conflicts together with local and external experts in all three case studies. Second, we use these models in simulation games to make the consequences of one's own and others' decisions tangible and to support the development of conflict-reducing strategies. Third, the results of all three case studies will be used to develop a web application for professional users in science, administration, and practice.

ZIRIUS is coordinating the project as part of the CIB Lab and is conducting a case study on irrigation conflicts. The aim is to investigate the extent to which (increasing) water demand from agriculture and urban greenery compete with each other, whether there is prioritization between different uses, and, above all, how the dialogue between different actors can be established and used in a goal-oriented manner to jointly pursue conflict-reducing approaches in practice. In addition, the Forschungszentrum Jülich is working on conflicts in a river basin, while the Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg is addressing the topic of water conflicts in large-scale mining projects.

Expected results and transfer

  • Three modular, participatory CIB models on future water conflicts in Germany, represent possible context scenarios as well as possible strategies and options for action of different actors.
  • Integrated, i.e. cross-module system analyses on future water conflicts in Germany and on possible strategies for conflict mitigation.
  • Workshop version of a web application with accompanying materials. These are tested with interested local and external experts in simulation games as well as in university teaching. The simulation games with the experts result in potential policy mixes for the investigated conflict fields.
  • A semi-quantitative and software-supported approach to systems analysis that is transferable to other subject areas marked by conflicting goals.

Contact Person

Project Staff

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