VERBUND, Austria’s largest electricity company and operator of the Danube power plants, is presenting a comprehensive package of measures for ecological upgrading of the Danube at four power plant sites. The medium term goal until 2020 is the establishing of passage for aquatic life forms along the entire Danube chain and the integration of nature conservation areas in Austria. "The project will be the largest one of its kind in Austria to-date. We are therewith once more showing how much we care about the living environment on the rivers, upon which our power plants are built," said Ulrike Baumgartner-Gabitzer, the VERBUND board member in charge of hydropower.
"Using diverse measures, we have already begun to improve the ecologically valuable habitats at individual sites along the Danube in recent years. With the current projects at the power plants of Ottensheim-Wilhering, Abwinden-Asten, Melk and Greifenstein, we want to create additional impetus for the environment and a further step towards complete passage along the Danube for aquatic life forms," added Karl Heinz Gruber, technical board director of VERBUND Hydro Power AG.
Measures for the integration on the Danube will be implemented by 2018 with funding from the EU-LIFE+ Fund, the support of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, as well as the fisheries associations from Upper and Lower Austria. Counting among these are improvements in the habitat for fish in the form of the installation of diversion streams and the establishment of habitat and breeding areas for 17 species of fish protected by the FFH directive. Four Natura 2000 areas are being linked together by means of "ecological stones". A total of 325,000 cubic metres of gravel are being brought to the banks for habitat and breeding sites. The projects are still being discussed individually in each region and, following detailed planning, will subsequently be submitted to the responsible authorities for approval. In addition to taking into account the interests of the local residents and the landowners, the hitherto existing flood protection will also be safeguarded in the process.
"14.5 million Euro are to be provided in the coming years for the current measures to upgrade the Danube habitat," explained Michael Amerer, commercial director of VERBUND Hydro Power AG. He added, "It is intended that the approach of developing a large-scale general concept comprising many different measures, also including LIFE Natur projects, will serve as an example for other provinces bordering the Danube".
Upper Austria: diversion channel in Ottensheim and Abwinden-Asten
The end of 2012 is envisaged for the submission of the project for a diversion branch on the Danube bank of the Abwinden-Asten power plant. The habitat will be supplemented by a newly created branch at the end of Abwinden-Asten reservoir in Marktau (submission in summer 2013). Summer 2012 will see the submission of the project for a right bank diversion arm at the Ottensheim power plant.
Lower Austria: fish passage in Greifenstein and gravel banks in Melk
Greifenstein is well-known for being the habitat of the "Gießganges". This wetlands habitat was created with the construction of the power plant and offers the possibility of refuge for a diverse collection of endangered animal species, from the scarlet dragonfly right through to the beaver. It is intended that this habitat will be expanded by a modern fish ladder, currently at the planning stage. Furthermore, the new gravel banks at Melk power plant – on a section of the Ybbs – establish the link to the successful LIFE+ Danube-Ybbs integration project.
Medium term goal: enabling fish to pass with ease
Subject to approval processes, it is anticipated that construction on the referenced projects will start progressively from 2013 or 2014, respectively. Parallel to this, studies for an optimised fish ladder site will be conducted at the Danube power plants of Aschach (Upper Austria) and Ybbs-Persenbeug (Lower Austria).