100,000 Danube citizens sign petition for a living river | WWF
100,000 Danube citizens sign petition for a living river

Posted on 16 February 2010

WWF, BUND and other environmental NGOs have collected more than 100,000 signatures of concerned citizens, who have signed a petition against navigation projects threatening the environment. The signatures were handed over to the ICPDR President Mitja Bricelj today.
Vienna, Austria - Today, ministers and their deputies from 14 countries of the Danube River basin - Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine - officially adopted the Danube River Basin Management Plan for the coming five years. The plan outlines concrete measures to be implemented by the year 2015 to bring the Danube and its tributaries to ecological health and achieve sustainable water use in the Danube Basin. Seven years in the making, the plan offers real hope to revive Europe’s lifeline, yet several growing pressures such as planned infrastructure projects to improve navigation, threaten to undermine this ambition.

Many infrastructure projects that governments are planning are not integrated in the Danube River Basin Management Plan, and could seriously impact the river and the ecosystem services that it provides if they go ahead as planned. Navigation projects in Hungary can aggravate the river bed incision and reduce groundwater level, while similar projects planned in the Lower Danube could push the highly threatened Danube sturgeon to extinction. Along the Upper Danube between Straubing and Vilshofen river regulation work involving the construction of a dam and a canal would destroy the last remaining free flowing section of the Danube in Germany with severe impacts on biodiversity and the water balance in the region.

“More than 100,000 citizens from Danube countries have signed our petition for balanced navigation projects” said Hubert Weiger, President of Bund Naturschutz (Friends of the Earth Germany). “This morning, we handed over this impressive proof of public concern to Danube Ministers and called upon them to step up their efforts for a living Danube.”

Pressure to construct new hydropower plants also threatens the Danube. While providing a renewable source of energy, hydropower plants of all sizes, including small ones, can upset fragile river systems. Hydropower therefore needs to be planned carefully, and within a broader energy strategy that emphasises energy conservation.

The Danube River Basin Management Plan is a requirement of the European Union Water Framework Directive, the EU’s ambitious water legislation that aims to achieve “good status” of Europe’s freshwater ecosystems.

“The novelty of the Danube River Basin Management Plan is that it considers all impacts and goes beyond traditional water quality objectives and the pledge of constructing new water treatment plants or implementing good agricultural practices” said Andreas Beckmann, Director of WWF’s Danube-Carpathian Programme. “For the first time, the tremendous impact of water infrastructure on river health is not only acknowledged but there is a real demand for action and proper integration.”

Hydropower dams, flood protection dikes or groynes built to improve navigability of the river interfere with natural river dynamics and thereby reduce the diversity of habitats that river organisms need to thrive. The Plan therefore sets targets how their impacts are to be avoided or minimised through practical measures such as the construction of fish passes at hydropower plants to permit fish free movement up and down the river. Amongst a variety of recommended measures is reconnecting former side arms of the river or decommissioning flood protection dikes at certain points to recreate wetlands. The restored wetlands provide a wide array of benefits, including flood and drought management by holding and slowly releasing water, water purification through filtration, production of natural resources (e.g. fish and reeds), and they are important spawning, feeding and nesting sites.

WWF and Friends of the Earth will carefully monitor implementation of the Danube River Basin Management Plan by the Danube countries. At the same time, they will also call on EU lawmakers to continue improving the legal framework which will enable the objectives of the plan to be achieved. One of the immediate actions is the EU-wide ban on phosphates from detergents. While Danube Ministers have agreed that the phasing out of phosphates from detergents is economically feasible and would be of immediate benefit to water quality, only an EU-wide ban would have the necessary impact.

Such an iniative could become part of the EU Danube Strategy currently under development. “We hope the Danube Strategy will become the road map towards a sustainable future of the Basin,” said Andreas Beckmann. “We regard the Danube River Basin Management Plan as the foundation for the Strategy. It can serve as basis for visions and activities for a green economy in the region.”

WWF and BUND hand over 100,000 signatures to ICPDR President  Mitja Bricelj in Vienna today.
WWF and BUND hand over 100,000 signatures to ICPDR President Mitja Bricelj in Vienna today.
© Katharina Stögmüller