Danubeday 2020: Protecting our lifeline, the Danube
The Danube is Austria’s lifeline. VERBUND generates 20% of the country’s electricity with 10 Danube power plants. Land restoration projects based on partnerships are returning habitat to nature. The Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism is supporting these projects.
On 29 June, the local residents of the Danube celebrate international Danube Day. It reminds the public about the signing of the Danube River Protection Convention in 1994, which aims at promoting sustainable water management on Central Europe’s longest river.
Indeed, the extensive land restoration projects being implemented by VERBUND on the Danube in Austria are setting the trend for Europe as a whole. With the support of the Federal Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism, funds of the European Union and of the federal provinces of Lower Austria and Upper Austria, it is proving possible to return large areas to the diversity of species on the Danube.
“Healthy bodies of water are the foundation of our life and the Danube is Austria’s most important river. The efforts being made on the Danube are a project to last generations. That is why we are supporting the land restoration projects where we can, and the federal government will be making an addition 200 million euros available in the coming years for waterbody ecology in Austria. This will also be of lasting benefit for the Danube,” explains federal minister Elisabeth Köstinger on the occasion of Danube Day 2020.
Achim Kaspar, responsible on the VERBUND Executive Board for generating electricity from hydropower, says, “We are adding a new chapter to the long history of managing the Danube in Austria. With our partners, we are creating new habitats and making it possible for fish to swim around the Danube power plants. With our measures, we are proving how important our ecological responsibility is to us as Austria’s largest generator of electricity, and proving that environmentally friendly hydropower can be a reality.” VERBUND has planned to invest 280 million euros in land restoration along Austria’s and Bavaria’s waterbodies by 2028, half of which has already been committed.
“We are currently building intensively on Lower Austria’s longest fish pass at the Danube power plant in Altenwörth. Thanks to a package of measures, not only is nature benefiting there but also the local residents. Over a distance of 12.5 kilometres, we are creating new habitat, improving the old course and reconnecting the important Danube tributaries to the Danube,” says Karl Heinz Gruber, managing director of VERBUND Hydro Power GmbH. Starting in 2021, the Danube will therefore become barrier-free for fish from the Iron Gate in Romania all the way to Ybbs.
“With the new mouth of the Traisen, we have created the largest land restoration area on the Danube on an area of 160 hectares. The fish population has increased enormously in terms of quality and quantity, including rare examples such as the Perlfisch (Rutilus meidingerii). As this measures shows, the Danube is benefiting hugely from large joint venture projects,” says Michael Amerer, managing director of VERBUND Hydro Power GmbH.
Records on the Danube
The achievements of the Danube projects to date can be seen for themselves. Together with financing partners within the scope of the EU project “LIFE Network Danube”, VERBUND has created Europe’s longest fish pass measuring 14.5 kilometres in length at Ottensheim-Wilhering. The Greifenstein power plant was given a 4 kilometre-long bypass stream in 2018. The fish pass in Abwinden-Asten is currently being completed.
The EU project LIFE Network Danube plus ties in with this: Lower Austria’s longest fish pass is being built at the Danube power plant in Altenwörth, the water quality is being improved and the connection of the Schmida and the Göllersbach in the Greifenstein storage area is being given a fish-friendly upgrade.
The electronic monitoring programme has so far marked 20,000 fish in the Danube with transmitters which help to observe the migratory behaviour of the fish. Isolated specimens migrated from Greifenstein to the ship lock at Aschach.