Tisza Basin

The Tisza is the longest tributary of the Danube (966 km) and drains an area of 157,186 km² in five countries (Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Serbia).

The Tisza can be divided into three main sections:

  • the mountainous Upper Tisza in Ukraine, upstream of the Ukrainian-Hungarian border
  • the Middle Tisza in Hungary, which is joined by large tributaries including the Bodrog and the Slaná/Sajó (both fed by water from the Carpathian Mountains in Slovakia and Ukraine), as well as the Somes/Szamos, the Crisul/Körös River System and the Mures/Maros from Transylvania
  • the Lower Tisza downstream of the Hungarian-Serbian border, fed directly by the Bega/Begej, and indirectly by other tributaries via the Danube – Tisza – Danube Canal System

In early 2000, the Tisza River came into the global spotlight, when two industrial accidents occurred on its tributaries in north-western Romania.

On the evening of 30 January 2000, a tailings pond burst at a facility near the city of Baia Mare (Romania), which served for reprocessing old mining tailings and re-depositing the waste sludge. This led to approximately 100,000 m³ of waste water containing up to 120 tonnes of cyanide and heavy metals being released into the Lapus River, then travelling downstream into the Somes and Tisa rivers into Hungary before entering the Danube.

On 10 March 2000, another tailings dam burst in Baia Borsa in the same region close to the Ukrainian border. While some of this material was retained within the dam complex, 20,000 tonnes of sediments were released into the Novat River, a tributary of the Viseu and Tisza rivers.

Analysis of the Tisza River Basin

Under the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), the ICPDR is the platform for coordination amongst the Danube countries including EU Member States, accession countries and other Danube riparian states for the implementation of the provisions of the Directive at transboundary level. In addition to the Danube River Basin planning, the ICPDR is taking an active role in sub-basin planning as well. One of the key objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) is to ensure that all water meets `good status` by 2015. The work towards this follows management plans for 6-year periods.

At the first ministerial meeting of the ICPDR countries in December 2004, ministers and high-level representatives of the five Tisza countries signed a memorandum of understanding (Memorandum of Understanding Towards a River Basin Management Plan for the Tisza River supporting sustainable development of the region), establishing the Tisza Group for coordination as well as implementation. This is a platform for strengthening coordination and information exchange related to international, regional and national activities in the Tisza River Basin and to ensure harmonisation and effectiveness of related efforts. The Tisza Group countries agreed on preparing a sub-basin plan (the Tisza River Basin Management Plan), which integrates issues on water quality and water quantity, land and water management, flood and drought.

The first step towards the objective was the preparation of the Tisza analysis report by 2007 (Analyis of the Tisza River Basin – 2007), which was the first milestone in implementing the Memorandum of Understanding. It characterises the Tisza River and its basin, identifies the key environmental and water management problems in relation to water quality and water quantity, and creates the basis for further steps forward. Following the identification of the key water management issues, the next milestone was the development of an integrated Tisza River Basin Management Plan until 2010 with political endorsement at a ministerial meeting in 2011.

The Tisza River Basin Analysis was an intermediate step between the WFD Article 5 report submitted in March 2005 (prepared at both the Danube River Basin level, ‘Roof Report’ and national reports) and the River Basin Management Plan to be submitted in 2009. This report is presented in four main sections:

  • Part 1 presents the overall characteristics of the basin including, geography, climate, hydrology, land use, basic socio-economic information, etc.
  • Part 2 presents the detailed characterisation of the water quality of the basin and expands the information collected for the WFD Article 5. report submitted in 2005 – Danube Roof Report 
  • Part 3 presents the detailed characterisation of the water quantity of the basin. This represents significant new information of the impacts of floods and droughts, use of water, etc. 
  • Part 4 integrates the issues in the basin, specifically on how water quantity impacts water quality.

The Tisza River Basin Analysis Report gives an overview of the following waters:

  • the Tisza River and its tributaries with a catchment size of >1 000 km²;
  • natural lakes >10 km²
  • reservoirs
  • main canals
  • groundwater bodies >1,000km²

The Tisza Group under the ICPDR was responsible for this Analysis Report.

The International Baia Mare Task Force (BMTF)

An International Task Force (ITF) involving the ICPDR was set up on 25 February 2000 at the initiative of the European Commission in response to the Baia Mare pollution incident.

The ITF's main assignments were:

  • to assess damage,
  • to investigate what caused the accident,
  • to outline measures to be taken to prevent such a disaster from happening again.

The task force assessed the causes of the accident as well as outlining a set of recommendations related to the strengthening of the regulatory framework and improved operational practices.

As part of its mandate, the ITF was given the task of publishing an Inventory of High Risk Sites in the mining, extractive and ore-processing industries in the Tisza River Basin. These sites included dams and 'tailings ponds' storing mining wastes and sludge containing heavy metals and other toxic substances used in the mining and processing of metal ores.
If these sites are poorly designed or maintained, they can pose a serious threat of significant pollution into river systems, either due to chronic leakage or catastrophic dam failure during periods of bad weather. While some of these plants are still in operation, many sites have been abandoned and are in a poor state of repair from a lack of maintenance. 

In April 2000, the Ministers of Environment in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine agreed to undertake the task of preparing such an inventory under the auspices of the ICPDR. The resulting list covers a wider range of 'hotspots' rather than those solely focused on the mining and extractive industries. Nevertheless, for those sites identified within the mining, extractive and ore-processing industries, the ITF sought assurances from the responsible Government that, immediate action would be taken by the competent authorities of each country.

Ministerial Statement 2010

On the 16th February 2010, ministers and high-level representatives responsible for water management from the Danube River Basin countries joined in Vienna and discussed the achievements and future needs/actions related to the Danube River Basin. In the frame of the high level ministerial meeting - hosted by the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) - ministers and high-level representatives from Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine adopted the 'Ministerial Statement towards the development and implementation of a River Basin Management Plan for the Tisza River Basin'.



  • » Tisza Group
    At the ICPDR Ministerial Meeting in 2004, the representatives of the five Tisza countries signed the Memorandum of Understanding to develop a River Basin Management Plan for the Tisza River. This plan should support sustainable development of the region. Fundamental steps have been taken since then by the ICPDR Tisza Group.
  • » Tisar 2007 - Development of Tisza River Basin Management Plan
    Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovakia and Hungary share the responsibility for the Tisza river basin and undertook jointly activities towards the implementation of the EU Water Freamwork Directive and the EU Flood Directive. These efforts were supported by the European Union in the frame of the TISAR 2007 and led to good results.
  • » UNDP/GEF Tisza MSP
    The Tisza Basin has been subject to significant anthropogenic impacts that have resulted in a degraded system, particularly in terms of pollution and the loss of floodplains and wetlands. The present project is focusing on the development of strategies and implementation of demo project to test the multiple environmental benefits of wetlands to mitigate impacts of floods/droughts and help to reduce nutrient pollution.
  • » Tisza Investigation
    The investigation of the Tisza River was a follow-up project of the Joint Danube Survey 2001 organised by the ICPDR. The objective of the survey was to investigate the water quality along the river and to promote public awareness. The countries participating at the survey include Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Serbia and Montenegro.
  • » Ukraine
    Three sub-basins of the Danube are partly located in Ukraine – the Tisza, Prut and Siret Basins, as well as part of the Danube Delta. Nearly 3 million people live in the Ukrainian share of the Danube River Basin, which is more than 3% of the total population in the basin.
  • » Slovakia
    Located in the Carpathian Mountains, the Slovak Republic shares borders with Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Ukraine. Water management in Slovakia is determined by its geographic position on the watershed divide between the Black and Baltic Seas. The Danube and its tributaries drain 96% of the country into the Black Sea.
  • » Hungary
    Landlocked Hungary is situated within the heart of the Danube River Basin. With around 25% of the country comprising floodplains and 25% of the population living in reclaimed floodplains, flooding is a key issue. Hungary is reliant on upstream countries for water supply and the vast majority of public supplies come from groundwater. Hungary has been a Signatory Party to the Danube River Protection Convention since 1994.
  • » Romania
    The Danube is very significant to Romania, since the country is located almost entirely within the Danube River Basin. The Romanian section covers almost a third of the surface area of the Basin, and over a third of the river’s length flows through the country. Crucially, the Romanian (and also Ukrainian) Danube is the end carrier of all wastewater discharges into the Black Sea.
  • » Serbia
    Serbia covers an area of 88,361 km² and includes two provinces: Vojvodina and Kosovo - Metohija; 92% of the country lies within the Danube Basin (accounting for 10% of the Basin). Of this land, 30% is forested. Serbia is dependent on water resources outside of its national territory. The country has been a full member of the ICPDR since August 2003 (originally ratifying the Danube River Protection Convention on 30 January 2003).
  • » Tisza Basin Cooperation
    Article in Danube Watch 02/2006
  • » Good for people, business, nature – successes from along the Tisza
    ICPDR Danube Watch: Four years ago Danube Watch reported on WWF’s plans for harmonising economic development with environmental improvements through its then new programme One Europe, More Nature. Promising ‘new perspectives for the Tisza river basin’, the initiative has delivered new jobs, new income, new business, new products and services, new green electricity – and new nature.


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