Expected Highest Groundwater Level (EHGL) 2018


The level of the groundwater surface and the groundwater piezometric surface is relevant to various issues in water management, ecology and structural engineering. This is especially true for its maximal value, the largest value that the groundwater level can reach, which is primarily needed in designing buildings. This value is indispensable as a basis for planning and for designing the waterproofing of a building against water under pressure or for dimensioning its foundations.

The maximal value is usually determined on the basis of long-term observations of the groundwater level. Currently, at around 2000 groundwater measuring points in the city of Berlin groundwater levels (observation well levels) are being measured and represented in the form of groundwater hydrographs (see for example Figure 1). The maximal value of such a hydrograph is referred to as the highest groundwater level, abbreviated HGL. Thus, the HGL is a value measured in the past.

Groundwater hydrographs from three measuring points in the glacial valley: The highest groundwater level (HGL) was measured at different times: MP 137: 1975, MP 5476: 2002 and MP 8979: 2011.

Link to: Vergrößern
Fig. 1: Groundwater hydrographs from three measuring points in the glacial valley: The highest groundwater level (HGL) was measured at different times: MP 137: 1975, MP 5476: 2002 and MP 8979: 2011
Image: Umweltatlas Berlin

If there is no groundwater measuring point with a sufficiently long observation history at a location at which the highest groundwater level is needed, this value can be approximately determined by interpolation from the highest groundwater levels of neighbouring measuring points. Such an interpolated value is also referred to as an HGL. If a highest groundwater level is stated in groundwater information provided by the Berlin Senate Department, the method of determining the specified HGL is set forth in detail.

In many cases, knowing the highest groundwater level that occurred in the past is very useful but not always fully satisfactory or sufficient. For instance, if the HGL is to be used for dimensioning the waterproofing of a building against water under pressure, this value observed in the past must of course also not be exceeded in the future, i.e. within the useful life of the building, and must occur only in extremely wet situations. If the observed history of the groundwater level is essentially determined by natural causes (seasonal differences in new groundwater formation, alternation of years with low and high precipitation), it can be assumed to behave similarly in the future. This also applies in the case of anthropogenic interventions with consequences for the groundwater surface, if these are permanent and will thus not change in the future.

The groundwater conditions have not been natural in large parts of Berlin for a long time. The level of the groundwater surface is subject to artificial influence due to both permanent and temporary interventions into the groundwater balance.

The permanent measures include:

  • rainwater sewerage, which may has the effect of reducing new groundwater formation and thus lowering the groundwater level;
  • decentralised rainwater disposal in percolation facilities, which may locally raise the groundwater surface, depending on the precipitation events;
  • drainages and ditches that were intentionally used to lower the groundwater level locally;
  • hydrological construction measures (impoundments, shore revetments, straightening of watercourses), which may lead both to a rise and to a drop in the groundwater level;
  • structures protruding into the groundwater, with the effect of groundwater afflux in the direction of inflow and lowering in the direction of outflow.

The temporary measures and those that may vary considerably in duration include:

  • groundwater extractions for the public and private water supply and for keeping water out of construction pits or for remediation, which lower the groundwater surface;
  • groundwater replenishments for increasing groundwater availability for the public water supply, which raise the groundwater level in the vicinity of the replenishment facilities;
  • reinfiltration of extracted groundwater, e.g. in the context of groundwater preservation measures for construction purposes, which also raise the groundwater surface – usually only locally.

This multitude of possible artificial measures that affect the groundwater illustrates that in some cases it is difficult even for specialists to judge whether and to what extent an observed (= measured) highest groundwater level (HGL) is anthropogenically influenced and whether such a value can also be used in dealing with the future.

In order to further increase the quality of the HGL value and to make it more readily available to the user, a map has been developed that directly specifies the “expected highest groundwater level”, abbreviated “EHGL”. This is defined as follows:

The expected highest groundwater level (EHGL) is the maximal one that can arise due to weather effects. It can occur after extremely wet periods if the groundwater level in the vicinity is neither lowered nor raised by artificial interventions.

According to this definition, this is a groundwater level that is not exceeded according to current knowledge after very heavy precipitation events under the following geohydraulic conditions: the natural conditions (e.g. water permeability of the subsoil) on the one hand and the permanently artificially modified conditions (e.g. impoundments of the watercourses) on the other hand.

Higher groundwater levels than the EHGL can principally occur, but only as a result of further artificial interventions. Of course, such interventions (e.g. discharges into the groundwater) are not predictable in the long term. However, they do not need to be taken into account for most questions, as they require permission or approval from the water authorities.

The definition of the expected highest groundwater level thus essentially corresponds to the definition of the “design groundwater level” (Bemessungsgrundwasserstand) for waterproofing of buildings according to the BWK guidelines, Bulletin BWK-M8 (2009; BWK Bund der Ingenieure für Wasserwirtschaft, Abfallwirtschaft und Kulturbau e.V.).

The term “expected highest groundwater level” is being used here instead of the term “design groundwater level” because the EHGL map is made available also for other questions besides that of the required waterproofing for buildings.

In this context, it is also noted that the responsibility of determining design groundwater levels for construction measures principally lies with the constructor or their specialised planner or surveyor. As this is sometimes not, or only with disproportionate effort, possible for individuals solely on the basis of groundwater investigations at the construction site or in the immediate vicinity, due to the overarching complex and strongly anthropogenically influenced groundwater conditions in Berlin, the State of Berlin provides information on the groundwater level as a service to the citizen in the context of its groundwater advice.

The Geological Survey working group (“Landesgeologie”) of the Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection has been providing information on the groundwater for decades, including the highest groundwater level (HGL), which is determined by specialists on the basis of the available groundwater level data. As the HGL, according to its definition (see above), is not necessarily an uninfluenced groundwater level, the aim is to develop a map of the EHGL, which is more meaningful for questions directed towards the future (e.g. waterproofing of buildings), for the entire city area. Accessing the map through the Internet allows the user to read off the EHGL for the respective site. Thus, waiting periods that were caused by the written inquiry can be avoided.

Currently, the EHGL map has been completed for three areas of Berlin (see Figure 2).

  • In geological terms, these are the area of the Berlin glacial valley and the area of the Panke valley. Both are characterised in that near the surface their subsoil is composed predominantly of sands with high water conductivity and the groundwater surface is generally not deep below ground (depths to groundwater of a few metres, sometimes even less than one metre) (SenStadtUm).
  • Furthermore, the EHGL map was developed for the areas connecting to the glacial valley in the South, i.e. the Teltow Plateau and the Nauen Plate west of the Havel. In the eastern part, the plateau is covered by relatively thick boulder marl or boulder clay of the ground moraine, which are also partly responsible for confined groundwater conditions. The western part is predominantly characterised by thick sand sequences. Boulder marl and meltwater sands are equally represented in the Nauen Plate area. South of the glacial valley, the area is characterised by groundwater surface levels found at depths that are usually much greater than 10 m, in some parts of the Grunewald and on the Wannsee peninsula even greater than 20 m. By contrast, surface waters, such as the Havel and the Grunewald lakes, but also the Rudower Fließ area, the southern part of Lichtenrade and the former Karolinenhöhe sewage farms feature low depths to groundwater.

A map on groundwater levels titled “Expected highest groundwater level (EHGL) (Edition 2018)“ is published here covering all three areas, using different methods.

Link to: Vergrößern
Fig. 2: Area of validity of the EHGL map for the glacial valley, the Panke valley, as well as the Teltow Plateau and the Nauen Plate
Image: Umweltatlas Berlin