The Emscher conversion: A new face for the Emscher region

The Emscher and its tributaries: an open sewer system for a long time, a place to be avoided by humans and animals, poor accessibility, with an unswerving course and a nasty smell. The Emschergenossenschaft (Emscher Association) has been putting an end to this since 1992: With the completion of the almost 30-year conversion process, by 2020 the Emscher region will be characterised by a naturally restored, sustainable water landscape and will no longer be recognisable – in a good way.

The multi-generation project by the Emschergenossenschaft water management association with a total budget of approximately 4.5 billion euros is unique in Europe because of its size. The project was made possible because of mining-related subsidence coming to an end and the redirection of waste water to closed underground channels. The new closed sewerage system will be more than 400 kilometres long and up to 40 metres deep – the most advanced in the world.

Engine for progress:

  • largest nature restoration of a river basin in Europe
  • increase in the climate adaptability of the region
  • climate-friendly construction
  • carbon sink
  • quality of life: From a place to be avoided to a natural area

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Photo: Klaus Baumers

Here in Aplerbeck, Dortmund, the Emscher has already been restored.

Thus, the way is cleared above ground for the revitalization of the 865-square kilometre river catchment area. A recreation zone is being created in the middle of Europe's biggest metropolitan area. According to this design (for example, the Emscher mouth will be relocated 500 metres to the north, a 20-hectare alluvial landscape will be created), almost the entire river basin will develop naturally again.

Adaptation to the impacts of climate change and climate protection

As a functioning ecosystem, the resulting new river basin will increase the resistance ("resilience") of the region to the impacts of climate change (protection against the consequences of heavy rain and flooding, function as a source of cold air and as a fresh air corridor). These topics are constantly taken into consideration within the context of a holistic view of the river basin.

But climate and environmental protection are also kept in mind. The construction is being carried out with as low CO2 emissions as possible: The measures range from modern machines to optimised transport and logistics for the use of equipment, from recycling and soil management to tire washing facilities for trucks to prevent the accumulation of dust in the surrounding areas. The conversion itself also contributes to climate protection. The new stream courses and their floodplains save CO2 and counteract further warming of the waters with their vegetation. New footpaths and cycle trails along the stream courses also facilitate low carbon mobility. And there is even more climate protection potential in the use of waste water and geothermal heat.

Increasing the quality of life

The area surrounding the former open sewage channels is being substantially upgraded and the quality of life for the inhabitants of a wide area is being increased significantly. The aim is to also improve the Emscher region through projects other than the waterway: Successfully implemented restructuring can already be found at Lake Phoenix in Dortmund, BernePark in Bottrop or the Emschererlebnis (“Emscher Experience”) at Oberhausen Imperial Gardens.

The local communities are intensively involved in all of these projects. From the very beginning, the guidelines for the conversion have been determined in open discussions with the municipalities, science, civil society, etc. This culminated in the "Master Plan Emscher Future", which was drawn up in 2006 and awarded a prize in 2012.

Photo: Emschergenossenschaft

“The Emscher conversion is the most symbolic project within the context of structural change. The backyard of the region is becoming its new front garden.

Dr Jochen Stemplewski, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Emschergenossenschaft Association since 1992

Partners and sponsors

  • Landesregierung NRW