Europe´s largest infrastructure project: The Emscher river modification

Once known as Germany’s dirtiest river – now the most cutting-edge waste water system in the world

The fact that the modification of the Emscher river – as Europe’s largest infrastructure project – has only generated modest local attention could be due to the underground and therefore hardly visible nature of the process on the one hand, but also to the lack of scandals on the other hand, speculates Dr. Uli Paetzel, chairman of the Executive Board of the Emschergenossenschaft (the water management association of the Emscher river), which has been working on this once-in-a-lifetime project in the City of Cities for 25 years. To the greatest extent possible, the project is on schedule with regard to time as well as costs, which is not a matter of course – consider the airport in Berlin or the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.

The Emscher river modification is generating a high level of interest both nationally as well as internationally in particular. The green technology experts of the Emschergenossenschaft are in great demand both domestically as well as abroad when it comes to questions of water economy and consulting on pumping station and water treatment technology, water renaturation, flooding management and ecology – a fact which is reflected in the many visits by delegations from around the world to the Metropolis Ruhr. The Emscher river’s waste water canal will go from Dortmund-Deusen all the way to the where the Emscher flows into the Rhine near Dinslaken, with a length of 51 kilometres and a depth of up to 40 metres. Its three pumping stations make it the most modern waste water system in the world. In total, more than five billion euros were estimated for the entirety of the Emscher river modification project.

By the end of 2020, the waste water of 2.3 million people as well as industrial waste water will flow through the new subterranean canals into waste water treatment facilities – not above ground through the canalised river as was the case during the Industrial Revolution. The Emscher river will once again become a nearly natural body of water with lots of value for leisure activities, as evidenced by the Phoenix See in Dortmund.

When Dr. Uli Paetzel was young, leaps over the polluted Emscher were considered a dangerous test of courage. In a few years’ time, perhaps his children will once again be able to swim in the restored river without fear for their own safety. He is putting all of his efforts towards this future as the chairman of the Executive Board of the Emschergenossenschaft, which is now more than 100 years old, and which, with the Emscher modification, is transforming the once-avoided towns into a liveable urban landscape for the people of the Metropolis Ruhr. He has already caused a minor ecological sensation: the Emscher bullhead (Cottus rhenanus), a rare fish species that was believed to be extinct for 100 years, has returned to the Emscher river.