“As Austria’s biggest hydropower operator, we know our responsibility for the environment. Where possible in these difficult times, we are advancing our long-term plans to improve the ecology on Austria’s rivers,” says Achim Kaspar, the member of the Executive Board responsible for generation at VERBUND. The group is investing 280 million euros in a long-term programme for land restoration and fish bypasses in Austria and Bavaria.
“Intact waterbodies and habitats are important not only for animals and plants but also for us as people. Handling our waterbodies carefully is the basis for a secure future in all areas. The fish bypass at Altenwörth power plant will significantly upgrade the Danube natural habitat as part of the LIFE Network Danube Plus project and thus make it more attractive. The Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism is supporting this important project with funding amounting to around 890,000 euros,” says Federal Minister Elisabeth Köstinger.
Deputy governor Stephan Pernkopf is pleased about Lower Austria’s longest fish bypass: “It is another important step for fish and other lifeforms in our Lower Austrian watercourses. The most important thing for me is to take a common sense approach to implementing the energy policy. In other words, to enable the expansion of renewable energy and at the same to ensure the retention of habitat. The renaturing of our rivers, especially the Danube, is also an important aspect for Lower Austria as a province abundant in nature.”
“The LIFE Network Danube Plus project is about far more than a fish bypass at the Altenwörth power plant. By linking our package of measures to the existing renaturisation projects on the Danube, we are multiplying the overall benefit of the project. From the Iron Gate in Romania to Ybbs, the Danube is becoming passable again and being upgraded with places of ecological retreat. Not only does nature benefit from this but also people, thanks to the new habitats,” says Karl Heinz Gruber, managing director of the project sponsor, VERBUND Hydro Power GmbH.
“As a project sponsor, we are investing 5.5 million euros here in the generational project LIFE Network Danube Plus. In this way, we are creating a lever that our project partners extend. Ecologists confirm: Large regional measures multiply the ecological benefit compared to many small isolated measures. We can demonstrate a wealth of success stories on the Danube that are unique anywhere in Europe and our competence is growing with each project,” says Michael Amerer, managing director of VERBUND Hydro Power GmbH.
“When water flows, fish have to migrate, that is a natural phenomenon and particularly important for the self-perpetuation of populations, especially during spawning. Its construction will not only enable the migrating species of fish in the Danube (e.g. common nase, Danube salmon and barbel) to reach other habitats and spawning grounds but also create a completely new, naturally structured habitat of over 12 kilometres in length and reconnected important tributaries,” says Lower Austrian state fishing champion Karl Gravogl.
Lower Austria's longest fish bypass
The planned fish bypass will be Lower Austria’s longest fish bypass at more than 12.5 km in length. It connects land restoration projects on the Danube and its tributaries, thereby boosting the diversity of species in the Danube. In total, the work will involve the movement of 575,000 cubic metres of gravel and fine sediment. As the work is taking place on the floodplain and no lorries of excavated material leave the project area, the impact of traffic on the settlement area will remain minimal. The excavated materials will be used in the area of the old river course.
In addition to the fish bypass, VEBUND is improving the bathing quality of the old course of the Danube at Altenwörth in cooperation with the market municipality of Kirchberg am Wagram. An artificial biotope is being constructed on both banks of the old course. The idea behind this “constructed wetland” is that the water should clean itself. The excess quantity of nutrients is filtered out and reduced. This is intended to reduce the growth of algae to a natural level. A model for the water quality of the old course at the Danube power plant Greifenstein.
Fish-friendly measures in the Stockerauer Au wetlands
During construction of the Greifenstein power plant, the neighbouring wetland was kept from drying out by a system of artificial dams. This "watering course" is today a protected area with a wealth of typical species of animals and plants.
With a total of four new vertical slots, which are being constructed within the scope of the project, the watercourse for fish between the Danube and the Schmida and Göllersbach tributaries will in future be barrier-free.
Project partners in LIFE Network Danube Plus
The project "LIFE Network Danube Plus" is being implemented by VERBUND and significantly financed by the EU within the scope of the LIFE+ programme, the Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism, the provincial government of Lower Austria and the provincial fishing association of Lower Austria. Also involved are the companies entitled to purchase electricity at the Greifenstein and Altenwörth power plants: EVN AG, Wien Energie AG, Energie AG, Kärntner Elektrizitäts-AG and Vorarlberger Kraftwerke AG.