ELSDORF – 2030 marks the end of lignite mining in the Rhenish mining area. But what happens to the Garzweiler, Hambach and Inden opencast mines once the excavators have been dismantled? Turning the brown coal holes into a lake district sounds easier than it is.

Simply filling them up again is impossible, the material is burned. Instead, its planned to fill them with water. The Hambach opencast mine would then become Germany's largest lake after Lake Constance. Glossy brochures promise blooming seascapes with marinas and sailing boats and rave about a tourism boom.

Other scenarios envisage floating solar power plants. But there is a catch: the plans are more than 30 years old and date from a time when drought summers and water shortages were not a factor. Are these plans still realistic today? Or would they have even had catastrophic consequences for the water balance in the Rhineland?

Why, despite the many question marks, are they being held? And what would the alternatives be? These are the questions this feature aims to answer. It also takes a look at Lusatia, Eastern Germany, where the backfilling of opencast mines with water is already a reality and poses a serious threat to the region's water supply.


When researching another cross-border project, Katharina Nickoleit stumbled over a number of people on both side of the borders, who expressed concern about the future of the water household in both Germany and The Netherlands. After primaly research, she was certain to have found an important topic and started putting together a team.

The team of Katharina Nickoleit, Christian Nusch and Niels Guns investigated for several months what the consequences of this large project will be on both sides of the German-Dutch border. They explored the situation with the help of a wide variety of sources in both countries. 

Photo credit: Christian Nusch

Team members

Katharina Nickoleit

Katharina Nickoleit is a freelance journalist covering environment and global health.

Katharina Nickoleit

Niels Guns

Niels Guns (1978) is a freelance journalist based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

Niels Guns Eindhoven journalist

Christian Nusch

Christian Nusch is a freelance German photographer.

Christian Nusch
€15.900, allocated on 23/05/2023




  • Germany
  • The Netherlands

need resources for your own investigative story?

Journalismfund Europe's flexible grants programmes enable journalists to produce relevant public interest stories with a European mind-set from international, national, and regional perspectives.


support independent cross-border investigative journalism

We rely on your support to continue the work that we do. Make a gift of any amount today.