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1.2 Maintaining lifelines – fully integrated, sustainable river basin management

Maintaining lifelines – fully integrated, sustainable river basin management

Rivers are the lifelines of nature. They collect together the continents’ water and transport it to the seas, they provide structure to landscapes and are a home for many different types of animal. They also fulfil a key economic function as transport routes, energy suppliers and sources of drinking water. When flooding occurs, it poses a risk to both life and property. Pollution also remains a problem in many regions of the world. This wide variety of aspects and their interaction can only be managed through sustainable river basin management.

River basin management refers to a water economy bordered by a natural drainage basin (rather than city, regional or other administrative borders). Its spatial field of activity is thus where the natural interrelations of the water cycle can be detected and where they have a direct impact.

A new understanding of water resource management

European Parliament and Council directive 2000/60/EC, generally referred to as the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), came into force on 22 December 2000. It draws heavily on the idea of river basin management, its core objective being the protection of aquatic ecosystems with a view to sustainable environmental development. Unlike the previous method of categorising waters on a basis of usage, measures and sectors, the WFD places the focus on an all-embracing, integral view of the groundwater and surface water systems (watercourses, standing waters, transitional waters and coastal waters).

As such, water management in future will no longer be based on administrative borders but on river basins. This opens up the way to a fully integrated method of viewing natural water systems and their use from source through to mouth. A co-ordinated approach across state and country borders will serve to ensure waters are used sustainably and are protected.

Instruments for sustainable river basin management

These requirements make river basin management a complex task from both a scientific and practical perspective. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is supporting research projects focussing on river basin management so that new handling guidelines can be developed within this field. As well as researching the complex interaction between rivers and their basins, land reclamation and conservation are other issues of scientific focus. Focal points from the last few years have included research on the Elbe ecology (project 1.2.01), river basin management (project 1.2.02), risk management for extreme flood events and integrated water resource management. The sediments in flowing waters were considered as part of the BMBF joint research project entitled “sediment dynamics and pollutant mobility in river basins” (SEDYMO) (project 1.2.03), the aim being to contribute towards ecological maintenance dredging of federal watercourses, sustainable management of contaminated flood sediment and the planning and implementation of sediment clear-ups to improve the structure and ecology of bodies of water. A joint research project funded by the BMBF and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) resulted in the requirements necessary for the successful reintroduction of sturgeon (project 1.2.04).

Funding has also been provided at European level, for R&D and networking projects on river basin management and integrated water resource management (IWRM) within EU research programmes. One such example is the EU “IWRM Net” project, representing 21 institutions from 14 countries including the BMBF with its two project coordinators in Karlsruhe (PTKA) and Jülich (PTJ). This project is pursuing training and intensification within European river basin management. IWRM Net gives the participating countries the opportunity to exchange both the conditions within their location and their experiences at European level, launch joint projects and even develop future concepts where necessary for co-operative research and development.

Ressource Wasser
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