2020 September 27 – After years of being exploited, the Danube River’s natural inhabitants face a fight to survive. With the The Coca-Cola Foundation and International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), WWF Central and Eastern Europe (WWF-CEE) is working to put that right. We are working closely with local stakeholders and relevant authorities to reconnect river stretches or floodplains to the river system by opening dams, installing sluices for water retention or by restoring water supply channels. At the same time, a regional movement is being created for wetland conservation and restoration, as well as good water stewardship. The eight-year Living Danube Partnership aims is to increase the water retention capacity by the equivalent of 4,800 Olympic- sized swimming pools (12 million m³) and to restore over 7,422 football pitches worth of wetland habitat (53 km²) by June 2021. We’re making progress, but there’s work to do.
After a long preparation process, one of our biggest undertakings, the Garla Mare Wetland Restoration in the Lower Danube Green Corridor is now finally approved by the Romanian authorities and fieldwork is underway. To date, the Partnership has undertaken wetland restoration in nine projects over nearly 6,000 hectares in six countries; including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Serbia. So far, measures funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation have increased water retention capacity by 8.5 million m3. Restoration of Garla Mare is expected to further increase capacity for water retention by a 5.2 million m3.
Rivers, lakes, wetlands and streams supply drinking water and help us grow the food we eat, as well as supplying manufacturing, biomass and recreation. However, over 80% of the floodplains along the Danube and its main tributaries have been lost — and with them significant populations of fish and other valuable ecosystem goods and services. According to WWF’s new Living Planet Report 2020, 1 in 3 freshwater species are threatened with extinction. For example, monitored populations of sturgeons have dramatically declined by 91% on average between 1970 and 2016. We need healthy freshwater environments to support life on Earth.
Restoration of Garla Mare marshland will return an improved flooding regime to the area and retain a minimum permanent body of open water. The Natura 2000 site is an area of marsh covering about 700 hectares formed in a former side branch of the Danube River. Historically, it was modified for fish farming, including a fish breeding nursery and ponds. The natural marsh was isolated from the river and divided by dykes. Two fish ponds in the eastern part of the fish farm are now abandoned. The fish ponds were supplied with water from springs and water pumped from the Danube.
The project will restore a more natural flow regime across the marsh, including:
- flood protection will be improved by re-establishing flood storage capacity for a volume of water up to 5,197 mill m3;
- re-establishment of the water flow through improving the capacity of a supply channel;
- managing reed beds to create open water surfaces;
- enablement of flows by opening breaches in dykes at a number of locations; and
- dyke reinforcement at active/used fish ponds to protect against flood peaks.
Five restoration projects under the Living Danube Partnership have been completed. Besides Garla Mare, two more projects are expected to be completed in 2020 or in summer 2021: Vrata and the Lankoc floodplain forest. A final project focused on restoring a number of side-arms of the Drava River in Croatia, where the Living Danube Partnership has leveraged significant EU support, will be completed by 2022.
In 2014, WWF Central and Eastern Europe (WWF-CEE), the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) and The Coca-Cola Foundation created the Living Danube Partnership to promote river and wetland restoration across the Danube River Basin. The Danube River Basin is Europe’s second largest river basin and the most international river basin in the world. On its 2,800 km journey from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, the river passes through 10 countries and drains all or part of 19 countries. While Danube countries have made strong commitments to conserving and restoring freshwater habitats and ecosystems, achieving this in practice has proven to be challenging, requiring overcoming technical challenges as well as painstaking alignment of local landowners and interests. That is where the Living Danube Partnership comes in: the cross-sectoral partnership between WWF Central & Eastern Europe, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River and The Coca-Cola Company and Foundation, is focused on restoring and promoting rivers and wetlands across the Danube basin. The restoration projects vary from improving the water level of the unique soda lakes at Neusiedler See in Austria to reconnecting river side arms in Croatia or breaching dikes and restoring supply channels to reconnect former floodplains at Garla Mare and Vrata in Romania. The Living Danube Partnership is also promoting a movement for wetland conservation and restoration in the Danube basin, that to date has reached more than 56 million people and engaged over 86,000 people in awareness about freshwater and wetlands and their importance.
For more information:
Regional Freshwater Lead, WWF Central and Eastern Europe
[email protected], Tel: +36 1 214 5554 ext 124
Therese Noorlander is Sustainability Director Europe for The Coca-Cola Company
Hélène Masliah-Gilkarov is Technical Expert for Public Participation & Communication at the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR)