VERBUND creating new ecosystems on the border sections of the Inn and Danube


Rewilded streamscapes and bank areas on the Inn and Danube in the border area between Bavaria and Upper Austria are leading to the restoration of valuable ecosystems

In July 2021, VERBUND, the leading hydropower company in Bavaria and Austria, put three new water ecology measures into operation on the border sections of the Inn and Danube together with the market town of Engelhartszell as part of an INTERREG programme. Together with Passau district administrator Raimund Kneidinger and mayor of Engelhartszell Roland Pichler, VERBUND CEO Michael Strugl, border power plant managing director Heinz Gruber and the new manager of the border power plant group, Andreas Auer, saw for themselves the effectiveness of one of these ecosystems on the bank of the Danube in the market town of Engelhartszell. 
During the personal exchange of experience, VERBUND also presented district administrator Kneidinger further ecological projects planned for the coming years in the city and district of Passau for establishing continuity of flow and creating new habitat for flora and fauna on the Inn and Danube. VERBUND is investing a total of around 45 million euros for these projects in this region. 

INTERREG project “StreamScapes”

In the INTERREG project “StreamScapes”, the project partners – the market town of Engelhartszell and VERBUND – made another important contribution to the restoration of ecosystems and riverscapes in the border area along the Inn and Danube between Bavaria and Upper Austria. Specifically, three sustainable land restoration measures with total costs amounting to 1.1 million euros and supported by the European Union were implemented in the last three months on the Simbach, in the Westerndorfer Graben and at Weitbach bei Perach, as well as at the mouth of the Saagbach in Engelhartszell.
During the exchange of experience, district administrator Kneidinger and mayor Pichler, together with VERBUND CEO Strugl, border power plants managing director Gruber and power plant group manager Auer saw for themselves the effectiveness of the measures on the bank of the Danube in Engelhartszell. 
The “Saagbach” project is a project of the municipality of Engelhartszell, which serves to create a reproduction and juvenile habitat for young fish at the confluence of the Saagbach and Danube. In autumn 2020, a flow-calmed bay with broad, flat gravel banks was created, which offers a safe area of retreat for all fish fauna at times when the Danube is flowing fast.  

Bundle of ecological measures in Passau district

During the site inspection, VERBUND also informed district administrator Kneidinger about other ecological projects that will be completed in the coming years on the border stretch of the Inn, in particular in the district and city of Passau. 
After VERBUND made eleven power plants on the Inn in Bavaria passable to fish again and also created many new habitats through land restoration, the focus in the coming years will be on ecological measures along the section of Inn between Braunau-Simbach and Passau-Ingling, as well as at the Jochenstein power plant on the Danube. 
“VERBUND is committed to the co-existence of nature, the environment and sustainable electricity generation from regenerative hydropower. Measures that are not measured in kilowatt hours, but promote species diversity and create habitats are therefore fixed aspects of our everyday life,” explains VERBUND CEO Michael Strugl. “Hydropower therefore creates a positive connection between ecology and renewable electricity generation and thus also eliminates deficits that have their origins in measures that are distinctly different from power plant construction. In this way, hydropower lives up to its aspiration to be a sustainable partner that is fit for the future of renewable energy – vital in interaction with wind and sun.”

District administrator Kneidinger is pleased about the total investment of 45 million euros and talks about the largest package of ecological measures initiated by the private sector in the region to date: “In the last few years, VERBUND has impressively demonstrated that environmental protection and hydropower go hand in hand. I am clearly very happy that important ecological measures are now being implemented in the section of Inn that runs through Passau district. It will be important here to maintain a close dialogue between the power plant operator and the population when implementing the construction activities. The end result, as we can already see in the implemented ecosystems, is great areas that are available as habitat both to the environment and to people.”

Mayor Pichler sees confirmation of this in the example of the work done on the Saagbach: “The land restoration that we implemented here very quickly led to good developments in both the fish fauna and the flora. And we are sure that the citizens of Engelhartszell will in future have a bit of the Danube available to them to experience.”

Border power plants managing director Gruber is happy about this desire for broad-based information on the many upcoming eco-projects: “We have lots on the agenda over the next five years, especially here in and around Passau, with the creation of continuity at the four border power plants together with additional natural spaces. In this way we are consistently pursuing our goal that once all ecological measures are in place, fish will be able to swim again from the Danube along the entire length of the Inn to the Engadin in Switzerland. Reporting on this regularly is a matter of course for us.” 

New habitat at the Egglfing-Obernberg power plant

At the Egglfing-Obernberg border power plant on the Inn, an approximately six kilometre-long, extremely extensive bypass waterbody will be created as a fish pass and other new waterbody habitats created within the scope of the “LIFE Riverscape Lower Inn” project funded by the EU. This contributes to a dynamic development of the wetland areas and also to the boosting of the fish population in the Inn. In addition, bank protections will be dismantled and still waterbodies created. The project should be implemented between 2023 and 2025. 

Near-natural bodies of water at the Schärding-Neuhaus power plant

As part of the same LIFE project, a near-natural bypass waterbody is currently being planned as a fish ladder at the Schärding-Neuhaus border power plant. In the tailwater area, the shoreline will be lowered to create oxbow lake structures and promote the development of a dynamic alluvial forest. These ecological measures should also be completed by 2025. 

Slot pass at Passau-Ingling power plant

Due to the very narrow and complex conditions on site, VERBUND is planning a technical structure to create continuity for fish on the Bavarian side of the Inn at the Passau-Ingling border power plant. Talks are currently being held with the city of Passau about the construction of a slot pass. 

Near-natural waterbody and water ecology measures at Jochenstein power plant

At the Danube power plant Jochenstein, VERBUND is planning a series of water ecology measures in addition to a very extensive bypass channel as an organism migration aid. Their implementation is closely related to the Riedl energy store, which is currently undergoing approval, as a means for offsetting its impact during construction and operation. 

Obernzell – Eckerbach

On the occasion of the personal meetings, the topic of the Obernzell floods in 2016 or the “Düker Eckerbach”, was addressed between the district administrator and VERBUND. The basis for this were earlier discussions in December 2019 at Passau district council with all relevant bodies as well as the local meeting on 19 July 2021 between mayor Ludwig Prügl and power plant group manager Andreas Auder with residents of Eckerbach. On the initiative of district administrator Kneidinger, a follow-up meeting with a wide range of stakeholders will be held after the holidays to agree on how to proceed.  

The role of hydropower in a sustainable energy system

Electricity from hydropower has many functions in the energy system. The VERBUND run-of-river power plants in Bavaria and on the border between Bavaria and Austria are in operation 24 hours a day and supply electricity to the grids for around 1.8 million households. Hydropower is CO2-neutral, protects resources, reduces dependency on imported fossil fuels and thus makes a key contribution to the energy transition. 


Eveline Fitzinger

Project Communication

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