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© Michèle Dépraz / WWF
Restoring Alpine Rivers
Most of the natural water courses in the Alps have been drastically altered and degraded. Only 10% of Alpine rivers are - at least partly - in natural or near-natural conditions.
As a result, the Alps have experienced major losses in freshwater biodiversity, the deterioration of natural flood retention capacity, river bed deepening, and the fall of groundwater tables. This poses immediate problems for both conservationists and water managers alike.

What We Do 

WWF is involved in a number of river restoration projects across the Alps. The aim is to restore and protect valuable freshwater habitats and species and to promote the sustainable management of Alpine water systems. WWF is also working to protect stretches of ‘pristine’ rivers that have not yet been affected by human development.

The Problem

Human use and manipulation of most Alpine water ways and wetlands have severely impacted freshwater biodiversity in the Alps.


Some of many Alpine river conservation projects for which WWF is playing a key role.

© European Alpine Programme

Generic water image. © Elisa Pestoni / European Alpine Programme

(1) The Traun River: WWF has supported numerous river restoration projects along the Upper Traun River, including the creation of fish ladders, reconnecting tributaries, and restoring floodplains.

Heavily modified flowing strech of the river Inn near Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria. © Anton Vorauer / WWF

(2) The Inn River: WWF is working to link flood management to nature conservation by giving more space to the river, reconnecting its tributaries, and recreating floodplains.

Generic water image. © Elisa Pestoni / European Alpine Programme

(3) The Alpine Rhine: WWF is actively lobbying for the restoration of the Rhine River, is fighting against new unsustainable hydropower infrastructures, and is working to minimize the ecological damage of already existing hydropower use. Together with their partners, WWF continues to support conservation work through the platform ‘The Living Alpine Rhine’.

River Soca ( © Wild Wonders of Europe / Daniel Zupanc / WWF

(4) The Soča/Isonzo River: Also known as the ‘Emerald Beauty’, this crystal clear green river retains much of its natural dynamics and is home to the endangered marble trout, Salmo marmoratus. Despite this and its importance as a Natura 2000 site, new dam projects are being proposed. WWF is planning a conservation strategy for this river.

Generic water image. © Elisa Pestoni / European Alpine Programme

(5) The Romanche: Hydrodams are being demolished in order to reconnect migratory routes and revitalise the river.

Generic water image. © Elisa Pestoni / European Alpine Programme

(6) Rivières Sauvages: In addition to restoring and repairing degraded river systems, we also need to protect and preserve the few remaining pristine and “wild” rivers that we have left.  Rivières Sauvages (Wild Rivers) is an initiative by WWF France that aims to protect portions of rivers that remain untouched and ecologically valuable. The Chéran in the French Alps is one of the pilot rivers for the project.

Tagliamento River © Arno Mohl

(7) The Tagliamento: One of the last pristine rivers in the Alps, the Tagliamento is threatened by the construction of new flood control structures and water retention basins. In addition to lobby work and information events, the WWF EALP and its partners also helped to design sustainable alternatives for flood control. The battle to save this river is ongoing.