The entry into force of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) on 22 December 2000 set a new course for European water management, which has since then been coordinated at river basin level. In addition to the protection of surface water and groundwater resources, the aim is to balance the different interests associated with these resources. The WFD is implemented in six-year planning, implementation and evaluation cycles.
Austria adopted the WFD into national law in 2003 with the amendment to the Austrian Water Act (WRG). The mandatory six-year implementation cycle is laid down in § 55 h WRG (drafting of national river basin management plans/NGPs). In Austria, these NGPs relate to the Danube, Rhine and Elbe river basins.
The 1st NGP was presented by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (BMLFUW) in 2009. It will now be followed up and replaced by the 2nd NGP for the 2016-2021 period. The 2nd NGP shall also support the planning authorities in taking a balanced and cost-efficient approach to protect and improve our water bodies, and establish water pricing policies for water users based on the "user pays" principle.
The draft to the 2nd NGP was officially presented on 21 January 2015 (along with the draft to the 1st Flood Risk Management Plan). In accordance with Article 14 of the WFD (public information and consultation), the public was given the opportunity to submit their comments to the BMLFUW by 21st July. This feedback is now incorporated into the definitive document, which will be publicly announced by 31 December 2015 and subsequently sent to the European Commission for review.
UWD: Rivers are still in a worrying state
With a view to the large number of "hard" revetments still found along domestic brooks and rivers up to the 1980s, it was expected that most problems would relate to river morphology. Umweltdachverband (UWD) has, in fact, submitted a summarised opinion on the draft to the 2nd NGP which clearly reflects the critical viewpoint of its member NGOs.
In its comment, UWD complains that even after the six-year phase of the 1st NGP our domestic watercourses are still in a "worrying state". Only 37 % of all water bodies have a good or very good status, which is "merely an improvement by three percent points" compared to the situation in 2009. UWD also reports that 58 % of the watercourses with a catchment area larger than 10 km2 are "certainly or possibly at risk of failure to reach the good ecological status by 2021 due to hydromorphological problems". Fish migration aids were installed in only 1,000 out of 33,000 transverse structures (3 %), and only 200 out of 2,200 residual flow sections badly in need of rehabilitation (9 %) were actually revitalised.
According to UWD, the most serious deficit in the WFD implementation process to date is that structural improvements have not been sufficiently taken into consideration. Specifically, rivers still have too little space to take account of erosion, sedimentation and longitudinal as well as lateral modifications, which hinders their dynamic development. UWD therefore urges decision-makers to dramatically increase the number of rehabilitation projects in the implementation process for the 2nd NGP and prioritise structural measures to improvement the situation. The latter must be made mandatory, because the practice of voluntary implementation has not proven successful. UWD also believes it is necessary to develop "water resource structure plans" to determine where morphological measures need to be taken. Rehabilitation projects at the local level are no longer adequate and have to be replaced by supraregional projects. Thoughts should be given to rehabilitation projects for catchment areas larger than 10 km², and smaller subbasins should also be included. Especially upstream sections of smaller rivers and brooks with pristine ecosystems must be preserved at all costs.