Environmental protection expert Lilian Busse

“Since my studies, I’ve been fascinated with the topic of water”

Dr. Lilian Busse wants to protect the largest ecosystem on earth: water. The biologist already laid down the groundwork for this during her studies at the TUM. After many years working on water conservation in the US, she now holds a leading position at the German Federal Environment Agency.

Lilian Busse remembers the excursions fondly. The seminars for her Biology studies at TUM took her to Greece, the Bavarian mountains, Tuscany and Lake Lucerne. Every trip was a valuable learning experience. In her fourth semester, she discovered the Limnological Research Station in Iffeldorf on the Osterseen (“the Easter Lakes”). The station has carried out internationally acclaimed research projects and has trained students to become research divers for over 30 years. Lilian Busse helped expand the station in the nineties. She took part in internships and wrote her diploma thesis there. “Since that time, the Osterseen have kept a hold on my imagination and I still visit them regularly,” says Lilian Busse. She is all the more pleased that she can return to the TUM and the research station with a teaching assignment this semester.

From Iffeldorf to America

Yet a fascination for the Osterseen is not the only thing that Lilian Busse took with her from her studies. The topic of water and water conservation has been a constant in the biologist’s life since her time at TUM. “What could be better than spending time looking at a Bavarian alpine lake, a beautiful mountain stream or the ocean in California at sunset?” Lilian Busse asks. She is convinced that “water is our most important asset. It’s vital to protect it.”

After her studies, Lilian Busse took up research positions in many areas of water conservation. After her degree at TUM, she earned her doctorate in Berlin and received a postdoctoral fellowship from the University of California at Santa Barbara. From 2002 to 2006, she was a research associate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, one of the oldest, largest and most important marine research centers in the world. After that, she received an interesting offer from the California Environmental Protection Agency. Also here water protection was a central part of her job.

I have experienced what it means to live with little water.

Lilian Busse lived through years of drought in Southern California and was able to experience herself what it means to live with little water. “We studied rivers that were dry for months,” she says. While in Germany environmental protection revolves around precaution, “aftercare” is still the main approach taken in the US. There environmental problems are usually only addressed once they have arisen. A particularly exciting aspect of her work in the US was that she frequently had to involve various interest groups and the strong agricultural lobby in the agency’s decision-making processes and skillfully mediate between them.

“I had planned to only stay one year in the US, but the tasks were so diverse, the challenges so exciting, and the often unbridled optimism of Americans was incredibly contagious,” says Busse. So one year in the United States turned into 17. In that time, Lilian Busse and her husband both acquired dual citizenship; the couple’s two children have spent most of their lives in the United States.

Back home

Nevertheless, Lilian Busse at some point started to feel that she wanted to come home. “We missed European culture and we wanted to be closer to our families again,” the biologist explains. A position opened up in Germany: since 2015, Lilian Busse has managed a department at the Federal Environment Agency in Dessau.

There she is responsible for water and soil protection as well as clean air and drinking water. She draws on her scientific knowledge to advise policymakers on important decisions. “Actually, I’ve always remained faithful to science, just not at a university,” says Busse. She hopes that we can improve the condition of natural bodies of water in the coming decades and that we also do our utmost to protect the resource of water for mankind. “I would be glad if my children find something on their life path that inspires them as much as water inspires me.”