20 Years of Know-How Transfer

The International Association of Waterworks in the Danube Catchment Area (IAWD) is celebrating its 20th birthday – the perfect occasion for a brief retrospective and a glance ahead.

Prior to 1989, working towards a common goal in the Danube Region was as much bound by restrictions as many other areas of life. The Fall of the Iron Curtain brought about a welcome change – also for drinking water supply, where water resource protection and the exchange of know-how across national borders are of crucial importance.

Role model IAWR

Peter Suchomel, the former Head of the Vienna Waterworks, and his colleagues Maarten Schalekamp (Zurich) and Dieter Flinspach (Stuttgart) had the great vision to intensify and channel these efforts into the right direction. They had a role model in mind, the International Association of Waterworks in the Rhine River Basin (IAWR), which had been operating quite successfully since 1970. Today, IAWR comprises 120 water utilities from the six Danube states Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, France, the Netherlands and Austria.

Peter Suchomel recalls: “We wanted to found an organisation in the Danube Region which was modelled on the IAWR; its objective was to establish a sustainable water management policy and improve the water quality of the Danube and its tributaries, which provide the foundation of water supply in many countries of the region. The members of IAWR all operate on the same level and are similarly funded. The background situation in the Danube Region was different, and our association had to take this into account while fostering the exchange of know-how among future members. It was also clear that in order to have the same impact as the IAWR, our organisation was to establish itself as a competent partner for politicians, authorities and industry representatives in the short term.” 

In Austria, Peter Suchomel’s idea soon found open ears. Vienna’s Mayor Michael Häupl, who then served das City Councillor for the Environment, saw another opportunity to move the Austrian capital, which before 1989 had been on the edge of Europe, back into the limelight. What certainly helped was the long history shared by the peoples in the Danube Region.

Kick-off on October 28th, 1993

During a water management conference held in autumn 1992, an agreement was reached to found the International Association of Waterworks in the Danube Catchment Area (IAWD). The city authorities gave the green light and promised long-term support to the new platform. IAWD started its business on October 28th, 1993 with the appointment of the Board, the Technical-Scientific Advisory Committee (TWB) and the head office at the Vienna Waterworks. Peter Suchomel became the first President of IAWD, Walter Kling was appointed Executive Director – a position he still holds today.

The first activities included establishing business from the inside out, presenting the TWB to the waterworks in the Danube countries and preparing a programme for regular river water quality monitoring. The first IAWD Danube surveys took place in 1996 and 1997 with support from the Budapest Waterworks. The following survey took the experts to the Romanian section of the Danube. 

From the very beginning, DVGW – Technologiezentrum Wasser (TZW), a division of the German Gas and Water Association in Karlsruhe, was in charge of sample analysis. After the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) launched its first Joint Danube Survey in 2001, the IAWD Danube surveys were gradually faded out while strengthening cooperation with ICPDR.

“An important touchstone for IAWD was the environmental disaster caused by a Romanian gold mine in January 2000,” recalls Heinz-Jürgen Brauch. He heads the Department of Water Quality at TZW. “Cyanide water leached into the rivers and put the raw water resources of many waterworks in the region at risk. In collaboration with local decisionmakers, IAWD managed to master this difficult situation. The affected water utilities drew much benefit from the huge know-how of IAWD members and were supported with analytical equipment. TZW was able to help out by performing regular checks of cyanide concentrations in the water.” 

An important player in the history of IAWD was Hans Sailer, who succeeded Peter Suchomel as Head of the Vienna Waterworks. As President of IAWD, he sought to increase membership and make the waterworks fit for the future by strengthening their management skills. Sailer hoped that the EU Water Framework Directive coming into force in 2000 would add momentum to IAWD membership through its focus on river-basin-wide collaboration. But his expectations were only partly met and awareness-raising measures had to be introduced. Hans Sailer adds: “Raising awareness is still essential today as IAWD relies on incremental member fees depending on the services provided. They cover the costs of our head office, our scientific activities and the preparation of the annual report. When canvassing for new members, we at IAWD always point out that water supply is a key service of general interest and drinking water not just a commodity. We also stress the importance of water resource protection, which must have priority over the technical conditioning of raw water. The growing need for professional management know-how was addressed by the installation of the Technical-Economic Advisory Committee (WBB) on my initiative.”

Recognised partner of IWA and World Bank

“During the past decade we have managed to position this association operating under Austrian law as the only organisation of its kind in the Danube Region!” says IAWD Executive Director Walter Kling. This can be seen by IAWD’s cooperation with the World Bank and the International Water Association (IWA), but also by the 2008 IWA World Water Congress in Vienna, the most successful event of its kind to date, where IAWD acted as regional co-organiser. Kling adds: “All partners draw a benefit from this tripartite cooperation. The World Bank and IWA have gained an established partner in the region that represents the most international river catchment area worldwide and adds a practical component. IAWD benefits from the scientific know-how and from being involved in interesting development projects such as the recent Danube Water Program.”

Summary & outlook

IAWD President Vladimir Tausanovic from Serbia portrays the current situation of his association: “2013 is the year when our association celebrates its 20th birthday. This is a good opportunity to look back and learn from the past as well as to finetune our programme. By founding IAWD, we clearly responded to the growing need to protect water beyond national borders. In the years that followed, we attuned our work to our individual members’ needs. This wouldn’t have been possible without the know-how and commitment of IAWD’s professionals. Despite tightening budgets, IAWD still seeks to expand its service range and take on new challenges. The involvement of a new generation of practitioners, scientists and activists is at the very top of our agenda! When developing future programmes or setting the course for the association itself, we must repeatedly ask ourselves the key questions: Which are the best ways to protect our water resources? Which services and tools best help the waterworks in coping with their daily challenges?” 

Further information can be found on the website

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