WWF is calling for:

  • A Water Framework Directive that is far stronger than the weak draft currently under debate
  • Enforcement of existing environmental laws such as the Nitrates Directive
  • Structural funds to be used more often for restoring rivers – like the projects to restore floodplains on the Danube and Rhine
  • Conditions to be attached to CAP payments to stop farmers polluting rivers

WWF warned that without concerted action at an EU level, the decline in Europe’s rivers would continue, identifying a number of key threats:
Fragmentation: Europe has only one large free-flowing river system left untouched by dams: the Torneälven on the border of Sweden and Finland. 80% of rivers in Austria and 70% in Sweden have been damaged by dams for hydro-power. Loss of river and floodplain habitats: natural floodplain forests along the Danube are now 4% of their original size. Nearly all lowland floodplains in Spain have been lost. 400,000 hectares of floodplains have been lost in Austria in the last 50 years.
Pollution: Diffuse pollution from agriculture has hardly been addressed: 1 in 2 rivers in the UK and Belgian Flanders are still heavily polluted with phosphorus while 1 in 10 rivers in Belgian Flanders, Denmark and the UK are very heavily polluted with nitrogen. Major infrastructure projects are still being developed: a large scale water transfer scheme from the Ebro in Spain, damming and river engineering projects for the Vistula in Poland, and extensive new waterways in Central and Eastern Europe.

Species decline: the commercially valuable Atlantic salmon has been lost from 124 rivers in Europe and North America.

Speaking at the launch of WWF’s ‘Living Rivers’ initiative, Jane Madgwick, Head of WWF’s European Freshwater Programme, said “Living rivers make economic and environmental sense. WWF’s Living Rivers Initiative aims to promote a change in thinking which values free-flowing rivers as natural resources that can provide for people and sustain wildlife diversity. Restoring floodplains in the Rhine and the Danube is now seen as the best means to reduce nutrients and store excess flood water.”

Tony Long, Director of WWF’s European Policy Office, said “The EU needs to take action on a number of fronts to restore Europe’s rivers. The most pressing action, in front of European decision-makers now, is the proposed Water Framework Directive. This is supposed to bring in a new era of good management of Europe’s precious rivers and water resources. But the current draft Directive is far too weak. WWF calls for mandatory water charges, very limited exemptions for the most heavily polluted waters and fragmented rivers and reduce as much as possible the excessive full implementation period.”

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