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Preserve and restore European rivers

In Europe, alterations in the morphology and the hydraulic regime of rivers have become major factors in river degradation. Less than 20% of European rivers are still in their natural, physical condition. Physical restoration of rivers and the protection of aquatic ecosystems have thus become a priority. A session will be devoted to this topic during the World water forum in the framework of the European regional process. Significant study has already been done, coordinated by the European centre for river restoration (ECRR) and with the participation of Onema.

In Europe, the Water framework directive, via the national regulations, makes it mandatory to preserve and restore aquatic environments. Many projects have been launched in the past few years to restore the hydromorphological processes of rivers. But to achieve good ecological status, there must be many more, large-scale projects. Unfortunately, large restoration projects run up against the lack of awareness on the part of decision-makers, elected officials, local governments and the general public concerning the need for such projects to repair river degradation and to improve the ecological functions of rivers, e.g. self-cleansing, protection against flooding, maintenance of biodiversity, improved living conditions, etc. They are also hindered by the lack of available information on good practices for this type of project and the lack of project feedback.

These were central issues for the European group coordinated by the ECRR during the preparatory phase leading up to the World water forum. A symposium brought together some 20 organisations in Ljubljana in November 2011. Recommendations and an action plan were prepared and will be debated during the forum. One of the essential levers for progress that have been identified is planning documents for the areas around rivers (land use, regulations, etc.) to preserve space for ecological functions to take place. Use of feedback from restoration projects throughout Europe would also appear very effective in producing consensus on the best restoration practices for rivers. Education of the public is strongly approved as an accompanying measure and the participants emphasised the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of projects already underway, on the local, regional, national and international levels. Finally, particular attention must be paid to the development of sustainable tourism, identified as a potential key element for aquatic ecosystems, particularly when the profits made by the tourism sector thanks to healthy environments are taken into account as well.

One proposal is to obtain during the forum a commitment by at least three river basins in three different countries for action programmes to protect and restore aquatic ecosystems on the basin level, implementing the best restoration practices. The programmes should include efforts to educate the public and to develop sustainable tourism in conjunction with land-use planning tools. In France, the Rhone-Mediterranean-Corsica Water agency has indicated its willingness to work on these issues with Onema.



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