The Threat of Navigation Infrastructure on the Danube

Drastic changes to the Danube's natural flow and surrounding lands to control floods, generate power, facilitate agriculture and waterway transport have already destroyed over 80% of the watershed's valuable wetlands, floodplains and forests.

What remains of the basin's integrity is under intense threat from shipping infrastructure developments.
Inland shipping infrastructure projects alter natural river function and habitat in several ways. Navigation projects involve physical modification such as water pumping, channelizing, dredging, and gravel and sand extraction to make deep, straight and uniformly banked waterways that partly cut the river off from its floodplain.

Irreversible impact on river species
Vessel operations also create waves which disturb other water users. For example, young fish are directly affected by waves since their swimming capacity is already low. High traffic intensity leads to lowered zoobenthos (animals on the river bed) diversity.

Lastly, inadvertent species introductions, spills and ship collisions pollute and damage aquatic habitats in acute and chronic ways. Accidental pollution involves oil and in some cases hazardous substances including cadmium, lead, mercury, DDT, lindane and atrazine.

Navigation infrastructure projects pose a serious threat to the Danube. A new report by a Vienna-based consortium and 13 Danube countries identifies navigation as one of the primary causes of environmental degradation on the Danube, stemming from activities that deepen, dam, or straighten the river.

Threats from the upcoming TEN-T "Corridor VII"
The most important navigation threat to the Danube currently is the European Union’s plan to develop the Trans-European Networks for Transport (TEN-T) "Corridor VII" along the Danube.

This project aims to 'remove bottlenecks' and improve inland navigation between eastern and western Europe through the construction of hydraulic modifications and canals.

According to plans, the Danube will serve as a pan-European transport route linking the North Sea with the Black Sea. Against the Danube Commission's (1988) recommendations that the total depth of free-flowing conditions should be a minimum of 2.5 m during 343 days per year, dredging will reach a minimum draught of 2.5 m (hence a total depth of 2.7 to 2.8 m) during all days along the entire length of the water course from the North Sea to the Black Sea.

Implementing this project would mean substantial modifications to at least 1,000 Km of the Danube, more than 1/3rd of its entire length, and significantly alter the last free-flowing, non-dammed stretches of the river.

The Danube-Oder-Elbe-Canal Plan
The Danube-Oder-Elbe-Canal Plan is proposed to enable ship passage from the Baltic to the North Sea, then southward to the Black Sea. This will indirectly or directly affect 46,000 ha of 38 protected areas containing 2 national parks, 6 Ramsar sites, and 2 biosphere reserves in 5 countries Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany.

Destroying migratory bird habitat in Ukraine
Lastly, in 2004, the Ukraine began dredging the Bystroye shipping canal that cuts through the heart of the Danube delta, destroying migratory bird habitat, altering the natural water flow in the delta and damaging breeding areas that support local fisheries in the Black Sea. Already, the total length of artificially dredged channels in the Danube delta is roughly equivalent to the total length of natural water courses (1,700 Km).
Threat to the River: Infrastructure / ©: WWF
Threat to the River: Infrastructure
© WWF
 / ©: WWF-Anton Vorauer
New dam in the Danube delta.
© WWF-Anton Vorauer

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