NGO Report: More Concrete Is No Solution for Europe's Rivers

A new study published on Sept. 16 by environmental groups European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and WWF reports that the major causes of Europe's poor water quality are at risk of being totally ignored. Governments across Europe are increasingly busy preparing a major water policy overhaul by 2009, but in light of potential climate change impacts, the need for changing water management is more urgent than ever before, according to a press release.

Pieter de Pous, EEB water policy officer, said: "Current practices of putting rivers into concrete straightjackets for purposes of flood defense, navigation, and hydropower have been identified by national governments as the biggest obstacle to more sustainable use of our water resources, yet our findings indicate that the issue is being ignored by these same governmental bodies in the water management plans they are committed to preparing under European law."

Apart from the need to tackle older problems such as diffuse pollution of nitrates and chemicals from agriculture and urban areas more effectively, the nongovernmental organizations argue that the biggest priority should be given to reducing pressures on rivers from the construction of infrastructure for navigation, hydropower, and flood management. According to the report, measures such as restoration of floodplains and rivers, including the removal of dams where necessary, should be given top priority to properly address these problems.

Despite the body of evidence against waterbody modification, the report points out a disturbing trend in countries such as Portugal, Austria, and the Czech Republic, which are actually stepping up their efforts to dam some of the last stretches of free flowing rivers in Europe instead of protecting them, the groups said.

The draft river basin management plans, which must be completed by the end of 2008, will be subject to public consultation during 2009. The study concludes that Europe's citizens have thus far been given no real avenue for participating in decision-making related to this issue and calls on national governments to step up their efforts to involve citizens in these discussions.

The EEB is Europe's largest federation of environmental citizens' organizations, with 145 member organizations based in all EU Member States and most Accession Countries, as well as in a few neighboring countries. EEB aims to protect and improve the environment of Europe and to enable its citizens to play their part in achieving that goal. WWF, a global conservation organization, works on the conservation of the forest, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.