The new Emscher

The Emscher Conversion is a planning and technical challenge unrivalled in Europe. Over a length of 80 kilometres in the middle of the largest metropolitan area in Europe, a river is returning that until recently existed only as an open wastewater channel. The Emscher Conversion is one of the largest infrastructure projects in Europe. Even just the water management infrastructure measures in North Rhine-Westphalia create and secure many thousands of jobs each year.

However, the significance of the conversion project extends far beyond the immediate employment effects. The enhancement in value of the Emscher region through new quality of work and life offers great opportunities to sustainably improve the attractiveness of the Ruhr area location, and thus to positively influence the location decisions of innovation-oriented companies. Furthermore, the successful conversion of such a large river system will have set an example for comparable major water management and urban development projects throughout Europe.

The conversion of the waterways is taking place in three sequential phases, some of which have already been concluded:

The first stage is the decentralisation of wastewater treatment. The wastewater is no longer treated only where the Emscher meets the Rhine, but is also treated in the region itself. Since the official opening of the expanded wastewater treatment plant at the mouth of the Emscher in July 2001, this project phase is complete; the entire treatment capacity required for the new Emscher system, of around 4.8 million population equivalents, is now available. In total, four large biological wastewater treatment plants handle the household and industrial wastewater of the Emscher region. The success of these measures can already be felt in the region today – even in the summer months, there is hardly ever an offensive smell from the Emscher.

With the conclusion of the construction programme for wastewater treatment plants, our efforts moved onto the construction of underground sewers along the waterways. This part of the project has already progressed – of a total of 400 km of sewers, more than 220 km have already been completed, including the associated stormwater treatment plants. Most of the sewers already built run along the subsidiary waterways of the Emscher. However, construction work has already begun on the sewers along the Emscher itself.

Once the waterways are freed from their cargo of wastewater, they can be restructured to be near-natural. On waterways such as the Deininghauser Bach in Castrop-Rauxel, the Dellwiger Bach in Dortmund, the Läppkes Mühlenbach in Oberhausen, and the Vorthbach in Bottrop, the conversion has already been completed over significant stretches. In 2011, this was also implemented for the main flow of the Emscher, from the source in Holzwickede to Dortmund-Deusen. Flora and fauna have begun to reconquer their habitats in the ecologically improved river sections. The residents of the region are also discovering the leisure value of the new oases on their doorstep. The waterways are again open to the public, and the restructuring of the works access routes into cycle paths and footpaths has also made them easily accessible.