Project background and research context

Societal development and acting are based on functioning ecosystems and the services they provide. The anthropogenic impact of climate change, biodiversity loss, land use changes and urbanization, among others, is increasingly affecting ecosystems and may limit their performance. Urban areas have a particularly pronounced impact on the natural water and energy balance, both on site in the urban space itself as well as in the city surroundings. Urban societies are complexly networked with ecosystems via technical infrastructures. Water plays a special role here, both for society as a vital resource and pollutant sink, and for nature as a habitat and environmental medium.

The research work of the junior research group focuses on the interaction of technical infrastructure systems and urban ecosystems as well as the urban environment in developing countries. The following research questions are addressed inter- and transdisciplinary using the case study in Nicaragua:

  • How do urban drainage systems interact with the natural water cycle and ecosystems connected by river systems?
  • To what extent is urban wastewater disposal based on natural ecosystem functions possible (targeted use of ecohydrological processes as a coupled urban-natural system)?
  • How can engineering planning methods be combined with socio-ecological considerations?
  • What changes in power politics require a transition from traditional urban drainage concepts to near-natural solutions?

Research approach

In the Nicaraguan city of León as a case study, representative study areas (1st city area, 2nd urban water body and 3rd river basin) will be used to develop, test and study the effects of natural urban drainage and wastewater treatment infrastructures. Relevant cooperation and practical partners from science, administration and society are involved. The investigations will be carried out at representative locations, depending on the location, which should enable transferability to other areas or water bodies. While nature-based solutions for wastewater and rainwater collection, discharge into and treatment of water bodies are being tested in urban areas and in urban water bodies, the impact of these measures on the provision of ecosystem services and the absorption capacity of near-natural water ecosystems is to be investigated in the further river basin. The extended benefits of nature-based infrastructures are investigated by examining the effects of the urban area on the river basin. Technological solutions are to be supplemented by socio-ecological and environmental-economic benefit analyses for the environment and society.

Objectives and expected results

The overall project objective is to develop the basis for a sustainable social transformation process by developing and testing nature-based urban drainage and wastewater treatment infrastructures. In particular, the integration of special implementation and application knowledge in the implementation of technological, ecological and socio-economic measures is intended to initiate a process of co-designing society. In addition, the expected results can be used for public tasks of urban drainage, wastewater treatment, water protection and disaster control, in particular by the city administration, water supply and sanitation companies and the Ministry of the Environment for the city of León, the river basin as well as for other regions and public institutions.