Waterway developments on the Danube
Danube flows through 10 countries from the Black Forest until it reaches the Black Sea. The navigation interest requires from Danube countries that the actual size ships can travel safely on the river. In order to do so, a wide and deep waterway must be constructed and maintained. Danube has some stretches, which are too shallow and narrow to support safe navigability, unless the riverbed is modified with river training structures and sediment re-locations. However, these shallow and narrow river stretches are the most valuable ones from ecological perspective.
The Danube and its floodplains represent a significant ecological value in Europe. Therefore, it is our priority to preserve the floodplain forests (Gemenc, Kopácsi-rét) and the unique Danube Delta region, as natural resources are the basis of priceless ecological services for people (drinking water, recreation, ecotourism).
Danube countries have various funds available for the maintenance of the navigation route. From the early 2000s, the EU pays more attention to the development of European waterways including the Danube. The suddenly available resources generated development programs, in which the ecological interests were pushed into the background. There were other mistakes in the planning process as well. There were no surveys conducted about the cumulative impacts of the planned interventions, or about the effects the intervention might have on drinking water resources. Also, there was no evaluation how the local people and visitors, who arrive to the banks of the Danube to rest and relax, would react to the changes caused by the waterway development. WWF offices along Danube countries wanted to change the national and international planning in a direction that takes into account these aspects as well. Ships don’t necessary run together in opposite directions along bottlenecks, and there are available professional navigation tools, which can prove to avoid safety these bottlenecks by. If the bank filtration drinking water resources, or the ecological conditions of the riverbed are threatened by the widening of the navigation route, then maintenance of one-way navigation is necessary instead of shipping in two directions along bottlenecks, where the professional navigation tools can support the shipping traffic. Fewer interventions can be accepted in the riverbed, which threaten the conditions of habitats. Restoration of a few river and tributary backwaters near the Danube, won’t compensate the degradation of habitats in the riverbed.
In 2015, new EU funds have opened up for the development of the Danube waterway, which, besides Hungary, are available in Bavaria, Romania, Bulgaria and the Danube Delta. WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme Office’s countries promote that the decision on the elimination of certain narrow sections should be decided on the basis of individual analysis, including the assessment of their cumulative impacts. If the planned waterway endangers an outstanding natural or social value, then maintaining the conditions only for one-way traffic will be sufficient. We have to minimize the damaging effects derived from the waterway development and ship traffic. If this can‘t be avoided, then we need to establish mitigating measures, which follow Danube countries’ and EU’s recommendations for conservation and water management.