European River Symposium and River Prize Gala approaching

The "Rivers in Europe: Best Practices in River Management" symposium, held 2/3 March 2016 in Vienna, will target actions taken to build positive relationships between key organizations and sectors that influence rivers and water management.

The IRF European Riverprize will be awarded at a gala in the frame of the symposium. It celebrates successful approaches that have overcome the challenges to river restoration, ecosystem health, water quality and climate change within the social and political context of the European continent. The ICPDR has helped establish the prize in 2013 and is a partner of the symposium.

Registrations for the European River Symposium are open (see link below).

This year's finalists of the European River Prize Aragon River and Segura River (both Spain) as well as the River Trent (United Kingdom).

Applications are assessed based on a documented river management framework, evidence of social and economic gains, an integrated approach to river management, long-term vision and demonstrated, outstanding achievements in river ecology. The European winner will automatically qualify for the next round of the prestigious Thiess International Riverprize.

Aragon River, Spain

Until the twentieth century, the Aragon river, with its tributary Arga, was a meandering river that generated many complex oxbow lakes.  However, flood risk in the basin led to the introduction of multiple defensive structures and intensive river dredging in an attempt to mitigate flood effects. Unfortunately, these activities caused a significant reduction in natural habitats along the river and, consequently, biodiversity plummeted.

Together with the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Environment and the European Commission, the Regional Government of Navarra—through several LIFE projects and community partners—has spent more than a decade working to reverse these impacts and restore habitat for local flora and fauna. The project has been accompanied by a process of social participation in a territory where the high presence of flood risk led to popular support for defence mechanisms.

Between February and December 2014, on-ground works were undertaken over 32 hectares and 2.5 kilometres of river. 985 metres of riprap were eliminated, 1,342 metres of dikes were removed, 200,000 cubic meters of gravel and silt were reintroduced to the river bed, the original shape of the river was reformed, and wetlands were reconstructed. Today, The Aragon River is home to a typical mediterranean river forest as well as species like otter, European turtle, night heron, and the European mink, considered one of the planet's most threatened mammals.

Segura River, Spain

In 1986, Spain became a member of the European Union. This milestone marked an increase in the production of agriculture and canned food and, consequently, a rise in wastewater discharges and lack of water. As a result, the already water-stressed Segura River in Europe’s driest basin became an exposed sewer.

The Segura River Project was developed by the Murcia Government’s Regional Water Department, in partnership with the Segura River Authority and town councils in the region, to restore the health of the Segura River and to supply reclaimed water to the booming agriculture industry.
Between 2001 and 2010, 100 water treatment plants and 350 kilometres of wastewater collection systems were built. In addition, a wastewater reclamation levy was established to finance the operation, maintenance and monitoring of these systems, applying the principle “the polluter pays”.

A major breakthrough was achieved in 2003 when the quality of the Segura’s water started improving. Since 2010, pollution has been unnoticeable, leading to the recovery of fauna and flora including increased otter population in parts of the river they had once abandoned. Birds now rest at two recovered wetland areas recognised by the Ramsar Convention, during their migration between Europe and Africa. In addition, around 110 million m3 of reclaimed water is reused annually for agriculture in the region.

River Trent, UK

Historically, the River Trent was heavily engineered into a single, straight and deep watercourse, leaving a ‘fossilised’ river bereft of natural features and lacking in quality habitat. Staffordshire Wildlife Trust implemented the Central Rivers Initiative—a multi-partner program with local stakeholders including councils, businesses, universities, consultancies and NGOs—to restore functional habitats along the River Trent, with a recent focus on a 6km stretch of the river through the Catton Estate and Croxall Lakes.

Works included increasing the channel width to allow shallows to form, re-grading banks, lowering the floodplain, adding gravels, re-connecting backwaters, introducing large woody debris, forming islands using living willow root wads, and wider woodland planting . It also included a unique attempt to re-anastomose (“re-connect”) the watercourse through Croxall Lakes.

These exhaustive works have resulted in a major increase in in-channel and floodplain habitat diversity and availability, and an increase in species within these habitats. By 2050, the Trust envisions the Trent River and its surrounds becoming one of Britain’s greatest wetlands once again, providing an artery for wildlife and flowing from source to sea in an attractive, multi-functional, inspiring and valued landscape.

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