Turning to the public for the draft Danube River Basin Management Plan


Turning to the public for the draft
Danube River Basin Management Plan

Public participation extends to all water users, and citizens’ groups likely to be affected by decisions need to be involved. The ICPDR invited the public to comment on the draft Danube River Basin Management Plan, and hundreds responded with valuable concerns, constructive criticisms and suggestions.

By 2015, all rivers, lakes and coasts in the EU must achieve ‘good ecological status’, according to the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). European citizens have a key role to play in the implementation of the WFD. The directive calls for the public to be informed and involved in the preparation of river basin management plans, which identify measures to improve water quality. Public input helps Member States balance environmental, economic and social priorities in these plans.

“If you wish to go fast, go alone – if you wish to go far, go together.” This African proverb was used by Ana Grobicki, Executive Secretary of Global Water Partnership, in her opening statement of the 2nd ICPDR Stakeholder Forum. This short proverb perfectly summarises the spirit of the public consultation process on the draft Danube River Basin Management Plan carried out in recent months.

On 18 May, the ICPDR published the draft Danube River Basin Management Plan and invited stakeholders from all over the Danube Basin to provide feedback, comments and criticism. A variety of channels for communication were offered, including the ICPDR Stakeholder Forum, which was organised under the ICPDR Presidency of Slovakia at the end of June in Bratislava. In addition, stakeholders could fill in an online questionnaire and send written comments directly to the ICPDR Secretariat.

“The Internet is an excellent tool for this kind of communication. So we developed a special section on the ICPDR website, which included not only the on line questionnaire, but all important documents, and explained the simple ways how to interact with the ICPDR,” says Alex Höbart, ICPDR Information Management Expert. Over 3000 people visited the ICPDR website www.icpdr.org/participate, more than 50 people filled out the on-line questionnaire and 18 organisations and individuals sent detailed comments. In all, over 300 water issues were raised by stakeholders, ranging from individual infrastructure projects to the wider problem of hormones in waste water. “I have to admit that I was surprised by the high quality of the feedback, we received,” says Philip Weller, Executive Secretary of the ICPDR. “Not that all comments were positive and supportive, but nearly all were constructive and can be used in the further process.”

public participation

Visit www.icpdr.org/participate for more information on:

  • The Danube River Basin Management Plan including the Joint Programme of Measures
  • Outcomes of the on-line questionnaire
  • Links to the national River Basin Management Plans including the programme of measures
  • Comments received on the draft Danube River Basin Management Plan
  • ICPDR response paper on the comments received on the draft Danube River Basin Management Plan

Putting water management issues first. The on line questionnaire was a new tool developed by the ICPDR Public Participation Expert Group. The goal of the questionnaire was to sound out public interest on international cooperation in general, as well as on some specific water management questions. “Through an open process with the wider stakeholder group such an important document gains additional weight,” says Knut Beyer from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment and Co-Chairperson of the ICPDR River Basin Management Expert Group. “All official ICPDR observers have been involved over the past years, but the audience has been remarkably widened in the past months.”

Of the respondents, 80% support international cooperation even if countries and user groups may need to accept compromises in their water and resource use. This overwhelming support backs up the ongoing efforts undertaken by the Danube countries, and further comments underline the trust the public has in the work of the ICPDR: 70% say, based on their knowledge, that good ecological & chemical status for surface waters can be achieved by 2015 through the suggested technical measures. In addition, people are also ready to undertake individual measures. Over 95% are ready to pay more for the water service if it improves wastewater and would reduce the use of pesticides and insecticides in their own gardens. Support was also overwhelming for rivers as living systems: 90% of the respondents support the restoration of wetlands, even if it would lead to the loss of agricultural land. The questionnaire serves as a rough initial overview of wider opinion, but so far shows very interesting results.

Providing feedback to the public. All comments received, either in writing or through the discussions of the ICPDR Stakeholder Forum, have been collected and discussed by the respective ICPDR experts. Some comments and suggestions have been included straight away, others could not be incorporated now, but will be issues of discussion in future implementation cycles. “We are aware that there are many burning issues which would need our attention. But we simply could not target all problems in this plan,” admits Weller. “Issues such as adaptation to climate change and sediments will be tackled in detail in the coming years and will certainly be of major concern in the next implementation cycle.”

To be fully transparent, the ICPDR will publish a response paper on the results by the end of the year. This document will provide information on how each individual comment has been treated by the ICPDR, if it has been reflected in the final Danube River Basin
Management Plan or what the reasons were for not taking it into account. Some issues raised of national importance are therefore not reflected on the international level, and others are too complex to be included in the first cycle and will be tackled in coming years.

The consultation process on the Danube River Basin Management Plan has been quite successful. “Despite the fact that public participation is not legally prescribed to international institutions such as the ICPDR, it has shown its value,” says Marieke van Nood of the Directorate General Environment of the European Commission and Co-Chairperson of the ICPDR River Basin Management Expert Group. For the Danube River Basin Management Plan, and for all the work of the ICPDR, it is clear that quality improves with public participation.

The ICPDR would like to thank all organisations and individuals for their effort in commenting on the draft Danube River Basin Management Plan.

Jasmine Bachmann works as Technical Expert for Public Participation at the ICPDR, and is the Executive Editor of Danube Watch.