2023 Shortlist


Entry type: Portfolio

Country/area: Germany

Publishing organisation: CORRECTIV

Organisation size: Small

Cover letter:

CORRECTIV.Klima is a small team within the German non-profit investigative newsroom CORRECTIV. For the past year, we’ve covered (ground)water and other climate topics extensively in Germany. Whether it be suing the Government of a federal state to name the biggest commercial groundwater users or tediously collecting and analyzing data with the help of hydrogeologists, we have been adamantly reporting on the fate and well-being of Germany’s most precious resource – and providing local journalists around the country with the tools to do so, too.

At the heart of our research on water is the groundwater atlas. We were able to visualize for the first time how groundwater has developed since 1990. An overview that did not exist until our publications. For the first time, researchers, the public and, above all, those with political responsibility can now see in which regions are threatened by water scarcity.

We do not do this work alone. Collaboration with journalists, especially on the local level, is a key part of how we do our research. Whenever we do a data-driven investigation, we share our results with the over 1,500 local journalists who are part of the CORRECTIV.Lokal network. We do this through writing a “reporting recipe” for each investigation, a sort of how-to guide for covering topics like groundwater or extreme heat. The recipe details what data is available and how to interpret it, as well as possible angles and interesting regions. Oftentimes, the data comes from freedom of information requests or months of scraping and analyzing the disjointed systems maintained individually by Germany’s 16 federal states. We also field questions and consult directly with local reporters who may need help filing follow-up requests. We recently started offering expert-interviews ahead of publication as well. The final step is a joint publication that reaches readers on both the national and local level.

Our goal as a team is to not just produce journalism that holds governments and companies accountable for their impact on the environment, but also to make this reporting accessible to local journalists, who – like in many other news ecosystems around the world – often lack the proper time and resources to delve into complexer data stories. To meet this challenge, we also coordinate regular and free workshops for the local network. After all, change starts at the local level. In 2020, local journalists published over 150 articles in cooperation with the CORRECTIV.Klima team.

In the coming years, we hope to develop ourselves as a regular source for climate coverage for readers and local journalists alike. This means expanding our regular coverage by making use of sources like the Deutsche Wetterdienst, Germany’s national weather service and an expansive provider of monthly and daily climate data. With an eye on the summer months, we are planning to offer a regular data package focused on extreme heat, forest fires and drought on the regional level. At the same time, we also hope to continue to work on longer-term projects where we can dedicate time to collecting and analyzing data that is not easily accessible to the public.

In alphabetical order, our team includes:

Annika Joeres, climate reporter
Gesa Steeger, climate reporter
Hanna Guggenberger, event coordinator for CORRECTIV.Lokal
Jonathan Sachse, head of CORRECTIV.Lokal
Justus von Daniels, editor in chief of CORRECTIV
Katarina Huth, climate reporter
Max Donheiser, data journalist
Pia Siber, engagement reporter for CORRECTIV.Lokal
Simon Wörpel, freelance data journalist

Description of portfolio:

Throughout 2022, our team has published 3 data-driven investigations into groundwater in Germany. For the first of our publications, “Diese Unternehmen dürfen Wasser auf Jahrzehnte entnehmen”, we collected data on the biggest water users in each federal state – almost all large industrial operations.

As Germany starts to experience more summers ridden by extreme heat, drought and forest fires, the number of local conflicts is growing. This led us to investigate which of those conflicts go to court. We scraped and evaluated roughly 350 proceedings on water conflicts in the Juris legal database, which collects all judgments made available by German courts. Our sample shows a clear trend: In the past ten years, judicial conflicts over water have increased in 11 out of 16 German states compared to the previous ten years.

Our most recent investigation into groundwater took a more scientific approach. Over 10 months, we collected 32 years of data for every groundwater measuring station in Germany.

The resulting publication was the first Germany-wide analysis of groundwater thus far. We found that during the drought years between 2018 and 2021, half of the over 6,600 evaluated measuring stations reached their lowest level in the last 32-years. In many areas, we have been able to demonstrate extreme trends for which industry and drinking water extraction are primarily responsible.

We also published the Groundwater Atlas, an interactive map that allows users – both readers and local journalists – to explore how groundwater levels have changed in their region, as well as to inspect the trends of individual measuring stations. The biggest challenge of this investigation was collecting and standardizing the data. Each federal state measures its own groundwater – sometimes several times per day, others once per month. The units of measurement also vary from state to state, as well as the coordinate systems used to map the measuring points.

After consulting with multiple hydrogeologists, we analyzed the data by first standardizing it and filtering for quality and completeness. For this step, we used a semi-automated process that highlighted points where water levels changed erratically. For example, if a monitoring well is replaced and the measurements are not recalibrated for the new elevation, it may seem that the water level suddenly rose. We manually reviewed the data for each monitoring station where such jumps were identified and removed the erroneous stations from our analysis.

We then used a monotonic trend analysis to test for long-term increasing or decreasing trends, and categorized the resulting measurements into three categories: strong trend, weak trend, or no trend. All of the data we collected, as well as the code and methodology for the analysis, are available for public use on GitHub.

The topic of water scarcity touches every individual and manages to make the complex and complicated climate crisis tangible. Our research makes it understandable that water can become scarce for every individual – also in Germany. Local journalists published over 40 stories across the country using the data from our analysis, and with their work bringing this important discussion even closer to the public.

Project links: