Danube Watch 1/2016 - A new plan for the Danube’s future

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A new plan for the Danube’s future

Rivers, lakes and groundwater are vital natural resources, but many of these resources are environmentally damaged or under threat. To protect these shared waters of the Danube River Basin, the ICPDR countries have committed to a Joint Programme of Measures under the new Danube River Basin Management Plan – Update 2015.

a view of a city next to a body of water

Over 80 million people reside in the Danube River Basin, with many depending on its diverse uses, such as drinking water, energy production, agriculture, and transport. The new Danube River Basin Management Plan - Update 2015 aims to further protect and enhance the status of all waters, to prevent their deterioration and to ensure the sustainable, long-term use of water resources.
© Mair

At the Fürstenberg Palace in the Black Forest of Germany, an elegant stone basin cradles the historic source of the Danube River with a group of statues representing the “Mother Baar” showing her daughter, the young Danube, the way to the Black Sea. And although sometimes it rushes and sometimes it meanders, the Danube always knows where it’s going. And now – thanks to an updated management plan for the future of the basin – we do too.

The Danube River Basin Management Plan (DRBMP) – Update 2015 has been published for the period from 2015 to 2021 with assessments of the progress achieved and new measures to protect and improve the waters of the Danube River Basin.

This management plan is one of the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), which aims to make all waters cleaner and healthier – and achieve good ‘chemical and ecological status (or potential)’ for all inland surface waters, transitional and coastal waters, and to achieve good ‘chemical’ and ‘quantitative status’ for groundwater.

To meet these objectives, the ICPDR's DRBMP focuses on four significant water management issues, or the main pressures that affect water status: pollution by organic substances, pollution by nutrients, pollution by hazardous substances and hydromorphological alterations. In addition, it addresses issues specifically related to transboundary groundwater bodies: quality and quantity.

Cross-cutting issues. The waters of the Danube cross more than just political boundaries; they cross separate sectors and industries – touching the lives of millions across the basin. The ICPDR’s stakeholder dialogues on cross-cutting issues, therefore, have been critical in updating the DRBMP.

Since 2007, the Joint Statement on Inland Navigation and Environmental Sustainability has defined a framework for balancing environmental and economic interest in navigation projects. From 2012, the ICPDR Climate Change Adaptation Strategy has provided guidance on measures such as restoring flood plains and improving irrigation practices. Finally, the Guiding Principles on Sustainable Hydropower, published in 2013, have helped promote hydropower’s positive contribution to renewable energy production while minimising negative environmental impacts.

Supporting efforts across the basin. The updated DRBMP also creates links with new EU policies, such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, to manage the impacts of the river on the Black Sea. In addition, the EU Floods Directive and the First Danube Flood Risk Management Plan, which was also published in December, provides managers of both river basins and flood risks with a platform to work together for the sustainable protection of the Danube Basin’s population and economies. For more information about the Flood Plan, see the next article.

Furthermore, the DRBMP contributes to efforts to protect sturgeons – considered a flagship species for the region. As a long-distance migratory species, their survival relies on many aspects of river basin management. Several of the measures outlined in the DRBMP target sturgeon recovery by reducing pollution, establishing migration routes, improving habitats and helping to ensure the sustainability of future infrastructure projects.

Getting the public involved. The updated plan is also the result of a long process of public consultation with stakeholders and citizens living in the basin.

During the first half of 2015, stakeholders were actively called to comment on the draft management plan in writing and through online questionnaires. The keystone of the entire process was a Stakeholder Consultation Workshop which brought together over 80 experts from public, corporate, NGO and academic institutions. All of the issues raised were then addressed by the relevant expert or task group and included in a final consultation report on the process to ensure complete transparency.

Looking to the future. Much progress has been made since the first DRBMP, and surveys and investigative monitoring ensure that the measures and their impacts are continuously reviewed to be certain of effectiveness. The WFD requires countries to produce updated river basin management plans every six years. The third implementation cycle of the WFD will require the DRBMP to be further updated by 2021, leading to long-term improvements in the Danube River Basin by 2027.

a close up of a bird

It is not enough for a river to only have clean water without anything living in it; the Danube River Basin Management Plant - Update 2015 aims to ensure that river beds and banks are well structured to provide
migration routes and suitable habitats for animals and plants to live in good health.
© Zsolt Kurdich/ICPDR

New Joint ProgramMe of Measures 2015–2021

In addition to updated assessments of pressures and information on water status, the Danube River Basin Management Plan – Update 2015 includes further actions agreed by the Danube countries to be undertaken by 2021.

Organic Pollution
↗ Vision: Zero emissions of untreated wastewater.
↗ Action: Reduce emissions from major urban, industrial and agricultural installations by applying best available techniques and setting emission limits.

Nutrient Pollution
↗ Vision: Balanced management so neither the Danube Basin nor the Black Sea is affected by eutrophication.
↗ Action: Improve cooperation with the agriculture sector to further reduce nutrient pollution and continue to introduce phosphate-free detergents in Danube countries.

Hazardous Substances Pollution
↗ Vision: No risk or threat to human health or aquatic ecosystems.
↗ Action: Reduce or phase out priority substance emissions and continue to close information gaps.

Hydromorphological Alterations
↗ Vision: Balanced management of structural man-made changes so the aquatic ecosystem functions holistically with all native species represented.
↗ Action: Build 146 additional fish migration aids, restore habitats in 77 water bodies and reconnect and improve the hydrological regime of over 15,000ha of wetlands.

Groundwater Bodies
↗ Vision: Pollution emissions do not deteriorate groundwater quality and water use is appropriately balanced and does not exceed available resources.
↗ Action: Prevent nitrates and hazardous substances from entering groundwater bodies, and improve the control and permitting processes to avoid over-abstraction.

Progress Since 2009

The Danube Basin has improved significantly over the past six years, as a result of the Danube River Basin Management Plan (DRBMP) and its measures. The first DRBMP was published in 2009 and implemented until 2015.

Organic Pollution: The construction of urban wastewater treatment plants has contributed to a huge reduction of organic emission from urban wastewaters – nearly 50%.

Nutrient Pollution: Total nitrogen emissions have decreased by 12% while total phosphorus emissions have decreased by 34%.

Hazardous Substances: Danube countries have reduced information gaps, such as data on point source emissions, and the Joint Danube Survey 3 has identified Danube River-specific pollutants.

Hydromorphological Alterations: Over 50,000ha of wetlands and floodplains have been partly or totally reconnected and 120 fish migration aids have been built to open migration routes and improve access to habitats.

Groundwater: New sewer systems have been constructed for groundwater bodies failing to achieve good chemical status, and new projects and legislation have been developed to address good chemical and quantitative status.

Kirstie Shepherd is a freelance journalist living in Vienna and has called the Danube River Basin home since 2000.