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14.10.03 : Switzerland: The Youth Parliament for Water act to save Europe's water

More than 60 young parliamentarians from the Rhine, Danube, Po and Rhone Riverbasin have drafted an action plan to save the continent’s major rivers and lakes, following a series of meetings in Switzerland. Members of the European Youth Parliament said not enough was being done to combat pollution and protect water resources.
The 5th European Youth Parliament for Water 'from the source to the Delta"
was organised by Solidarity Water Europe in cooperation with ERN (Euroean Rivers Network) , and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, as part of the United Nations Year of Freshwater.
mehr infos in englisch, français, deutsch :

14.10.03 : Oil-Rich Central Asia Battles for Water

ALMATY, Kazakhstan - The Soviet Union is gone, the glaciers are getting smaller and in parched oil-rich Central Asia the battle is on for water.
Most of it pours down during the hot summer months from the glaciers of the towering Pamir and Tien Shan mountain ranges, on territory claimed by Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Downstream, and thirstier by the year, lie their former Soviet "brothers" Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
"I would not say all is too bad at the moment. But glaciers in the north Tien Shan have shrunk by 30 percent since 1957, and will be half-gone by 2025," Asylbek Aidaraliyev, Kyrgyz presidential aide, told Reuters at an international water conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe last month.
"The population will grow, rivers will dry up, sown areas will decrease - here is the reason for water conflicts."
Before the Soviet Union started falling apart a decade ago, water in the five "stans" was managed centrally, and with clockwork precision, to supply the region's 50 million people.
Soviet engineers built giant power stations in the Kyrgyz and Tajik mountains, the source of the two main regional rivers - Syr Darya and Amu Darya. Tajikistan's Nurek hydropower station, with the second-largest dam in the world, alone controls some 40 percent of the flow of the Amu Darya.
Each summer, Moscow would order upstream Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to release water to neighbors below, irrigating wide stretches of orchards, cotton and rice.
In winter, the two kept water in their mountain reservoirs and produced cheap electricity from coal, oil and gas sent by their neighbors in return for precious summer water deliveries.
After the Soviet Union unraveled in 1991, Moscow stopped issuing the orders, the energy system fell apart and farmland turned into salt-laden desert.
"Israel and Jordan, populated by some 11 million, use three billion cubic meters (bcm) of water. The Amu Darya and Syr Darya supply 110 bcm a year, and it's not enough! It's nonsense!" said an angry Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Bazarbai Mambetov.
An estimated 50 percent of the arid region's water is wasted, and the potential conflicts over water is high in volatile Central Asia.
Uzbekistan used to cut off neighboring Kyrgyzstan from natural gas supplies in cold winter months if payments were late.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, their poverty-stricken economies unable to afford fuel to generate their own electricity in winter, nowadays switch on their hydropower systems - often flooding furious neighbors downstream in the process.
"You have flooded our pastures, villages and destroyed roads," Khalilulla Shirimbetov, head of Uzbekistan's Nature Protection Committee, told the conference, directing his accusations at the Kyrgyz delegation.
Uzbekistan is also worried that a more economically buoyant Afghanistan will use more water from the Amu Darya river on their border.
And Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov wants to create a lake in the Karakum desert to immortalize his rule.
Turkmenistan says the "Golden Century Lake" will be fed by drainage water. Uzbekistan suspects it will take more water from the Amu Drya.
The lack of water has been compounded by the sad fate of the Aral Sea. Lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, it was once the world's fourth-largest inland sea.
It is now half its original size and getting smaller, the result of sucking water from the main rivers that supplied it during Soviet days to help meet grandiose cotton harvest targets in a region ill-suited to the thirsty crop.
It has become one of the world's most polluted regions and the fishing villages along its shores have become arid ghost towns stuck on dry lake beds.
Experts estimate 75 million tons of the toxic mixture of sea salt and fertilizers are blown off the dry Aral Sea bed each year.

Story by Alexei Kalmykov

10.10.03 : Europes largest water bridge opens

In what’s being hailed as an engineering masterpiece, two important German shipping canals have been joined by a giant kilometer-long concrete bathtub. The new waterway near the eastern town of Magdeburg opens Friday.
Public infrastructure projects are notorious for taking longer than expected, but Germany’s new water bridge tying the Elbe-Havel canal to the important Mittelland canal, which leads to the country’s industrial Ruhr Valley heartland, was over 80 years in the planning. Engineers first dreamt of joining the two waterways as far back as 1919. Construction to bridge the Elbe river near Magdeburg actually started in the 1930s, but progress was halted during the Second World War in 1942. After the Cold War split Germany the project was shelved indefinitely, but things were put back on track following reunification in 1990.
Source: Deutsche Welle :,3367,1446_A_990878_1_A,00.html

09.10.03 : Icelandic dam saga raises hope and dread
KARAHNJUKAR, Iceland - The first snow falling in the Icelandic highlands and the piercing wind aren't slowing down the hundreds of foreign workers building Europe's highest dam in one of its biggest wildernesses.
Iceland's largest-ever industrial project by the national power company Landsvirkjun is a saga of superlatives, hailed by ministers and local politicians. Yet it has whipped up a row about the environment among the population of under 300,000.
The project will increase the North Atlantic island's energy output by 60 percent but it will have just one customer, an Alcoa AA.N aluminium smelter which should be up and running in 2007.
The Karahnjukar dam, which will be 190 metres (625 feet) high, 730 metres (2,395 feet) wide and 600 metres (1,990 feet) thick, will damage the area's unique nature forever, environmentalists say.
"The project is too big for the nature up there and for the region," said Thurdur Backman, a Left-Green party representative in parliament. "We who have another view on how to use nature had hoped to set up a national park there."
But a clear majority of local people support the project, saying building the power plant and the smelter are the only ways to create growth and jobs in a remote region.
The plant will have a capacity of 690 MW and an annual output of 4,460 million GWh, a significant size on a Nordic scale.
To feed it, Landsvirkjun is harnessing two of the three main rivers flowing from Europe's biggest glacier, Vatnajokull. Three dams will create a 57 square-km (22 square-mile) reservoir -- a rare project in Europe where few dams have been built in recent decades.
Opponents of the project say it would drown the highland vegetation, alter the groundwater balance and collect so much mud that it would form a dust bowl in dry conditions, choking the nearby town in windy weather.
Organisations such as the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association say the reservoir would disturb the area's reindeer, freshwater fish and harbour seal population and ruin approximately 500 nesting spots of the pink-footed goose.
To add to the messy saga, Impregilo IPG.MI , the Italian firm building the dam and tunnels for the plant for 40 billion Icelandic crowns ($517 million), has run into trouble with local unions which say it is not paying imported workers enough.
The construction of the dam will employ around 1,500 workers, as many people as the population of nearby Egilsstadir.
Hundreds, some with families, have already come from Italy, Portugal and Romania to work here. They live in a remote highland camp, a 1-1/2-hour drive from Egilsstadir.
Cosmopolitan influences have reached the tiny town - pubs now publish adverts in English, and restaurants are packed on Sundays.
The 322,000 tonne smelter itself, an investment of $1.1 billion, will be built in Fjardabyggd, some five km (three miles) outside Reydarfjordur, a drowsy town of 600 people.
Real estate prices have already started rising there.
"I understand the people who oppose Karahnjukar, but I don't agree with them. I think it's more important to get new jobs in the east," said Fjardabyggd mayor Gudmundur Bjarnason.
The biggest local industry is fishing, but fish factories have modernised production, making them less dependent on manual labour. Farming is a shrinking industry in the hostile climate, and the tourism season lasts a mere three months.
As employment opportunities have declined, the region has lost one percent of its population each year to bigger cities.
"A lot of new young people who have moved out to study would like to move back. I'm sure that once we can create good, stable jobs, it won't be a problem to get Icelanders to move here," said Smari Geirsson, chairman of the municipal council.
The smelter will provide 455 jobs and Geirsson said it would create at least 300 indirect ones. Fjardabyggd sees its population of just over 3,000 growing up to 50 percent by 2010.
Yet some locals are sceptical.
"It will be difficult for such a big employer to settle down in a place which has so few people," Backman said.
The finance ministry estimates that the construction of Alcoa's smelter and the expansion of another smelter in western Iceland will help the economy grow by eight percent between 2003 and 2006, against 0.25 percent growth last year.
It would also bring the country's unemployment down to one percent from around three percent now.
"This town used to be dead. Now it's thriving. They're building new houses, after 40 years," said Thorbjorg Snorradottir, who works at the petrol station in Reydarfjordur.
Snorradottir said she was aware of the problems the dam project could cause to the nature, but said: "It's animals versus people. I choose people. We Icelanders have always had a good standard of living, and we're not letting that fall."
Story by Anna Peltola

08.10.03 : Brussels steps in to solve Spanish water row

Environment Daily 1526, 08/10/03 :
Opposing sides in the long-running argument over the Spanish national
hydrological plan will meet in Brussels next week in an attempt to
agree on potential impacts on the river Ebro of proposals to abstract
large amounts of water for piping to Spain's dry south.
The Spanish government and its detractors, chiefly environmental NGOs,
are being brought together by the European Commission next Thursday and
Friday. Commission officials say the aim is to bridge their "stark
differences" over predicted water flow in the Ebro and how much water
its delta needs to stay healthy.
"The stakes are very high," one official said on Wednesday. "The Ebro
delta is a unique resource, its protection is something we need to be
reassured about. If there's not enough water for transfers out of the
Ebro, everything else is a redundant question."
Though only one element of the wide-ranging Spanish hydrological plan,
the Ebro transfer scheme underpins many other aspects. The Commission
has put on hold EU funding approval for three other major projects
under the plan until it is satisfied that the transfers can be
sustainable (ED 24/06/03
Follow-up: European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

06.10.03 : RAMSAR - moldova designates the lower dniester
The Bureau of the Convention on Wetlands is very pleased to announce that the Republic of Moldova, which joined the Convention in 2000, has designated its second Wetland of International Importance, effective 20 August 2003. Lower Dniester (Nistru de Jos) lies on both sides of the Dniester in Tighina and Slodozia districts and covers a surface area of 60,000 hectares. Read more...
more information :

01.10.03 : California Moves to End Colorado River Water Wars

LOS ANGELES /USA - California took a major step this week toward resolving its so-called water wars and reducing the amount it draws from the giant Colorado River, largely at the expense of the state's desert farmers.

Calif. Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation this week to implement a pact reached between four state water agencies following more than seven years of often bitter negotiations.
California has been using around 5.3 million acre-feet per year from the Colorado River but is legally only entitled to 4.4 million acre-feet through water rights secured in some cases more than 100 years ago.
Other western states which rely on the giant river, including some with rapid population growth like Arizona and Nevada, have pressured California to take less water.
Four years of drought helped to further fuel demands that California should draw less water from the river.
Earlier this year the federal government lost patience and cut the state off from "surplus" supplies for 2003, effectively cutting California's allocation down to 4.4 million acre-feet.
"After years of often bitter negotiations, the Southern California water agencies that tap the Colorado River have finally agreed a plan that could lead to peace in their lengthy water wars," said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.
The settlement means that California will be able to reduce its dependence on the river over 14 years rather than face a permanent federally imposed cutback.
The legislation implements a pact between four of the state's water agencies, San Diego County Water Authority, the Imperial Irrigation District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Coachella Valley Water District.
Under the deal, water will be transferred from agricultural agencies to urban water districts with farmers paid to retire land on a temporary two-year rotation. The largest crop in the affected region is alfalfa.
As California's dependence on water from the Colorado River is gradually reduced, the other Colorado basin states will be able to claim their legally entitled amounts of Colorado River water over the course of the 75-year deal.
"Today California sends an unambiguous signal to the federal government and to our neighbors in the Colorado River Basin that California has its water house in order," Davis said in a statement.
State lawmakers earlier this month passed three bills needed to implement the plan and the water boards need to approve it by Oct. 12, otherwise legislation expires.
Three of the boards have already done so and the fourth, the Imperial Irrigation District, is expected to sign off on the deal either later this week or early next week.
The legislation signed this week includes provisions aimed at restoring and protecting the Salton Sea, California's largest lake and an important habitat for over 400 species of birds, several of which are endangered.

Story by Nigel Hunt

28.09.03 : Plan for Tibet Dam sets off protests

By Adam Luck , London Sunday Telegraph , Published September 28, 2003

HONG KONG — A dispute over communist cronyism has erupted in China after
the prime minister approved plans to build a dam on a Tibetan holy lake,
one of the country's remaining great wildernesses.
The $315 million hydroelectric project, which protesters say will ruin the
lake and threaten endangered animals and plants, will be built by power
giant China Huaneng Group, the country's biggest independent power producer.
The company is run by Li Xiaopeng, the son of the former prime minister, Li
Peng, and one of China's so-called "princelings" who parachuted into
positions of wealth and influence thanks to their family connections.
Li Peng, known for ordering the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, was also
the driving force behind China's Three Gorges Dam, which has been blamed
for causing environmental devastation and the forcible removal of almost 2
million people.
Reformers within the Communist Party had seen the latest dam as a test of
how far the new leadership, under Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, would
challenge vested interests and charges of government corruption.
But after a two-year battle, Huaneng has been given approval to build the
dam on Mugecuo Lake, known to Tibetans as Yeti Lake, which is home to
pandas, snow leopards and the buffalo-like golden takin — believed to have
inspired the Golden Fleece myth — in addition to rare plants.
"We have spent two years and repeatedly lobbied the central and provincial
governments about this, but it has all been for nothing," a leading Chinese
environmentalist said.
"When we were told that the project was going ahead, we were warned to drop
the matter and to publish no more articles. "This is about political power.
The fact is, this is about Li Peng's son."
Mugecuo Lake lies at the heart of Ganzi, a remote district that is part of
the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The area is admired by scientists and
ecologists for its
unique habitat and scenery but is notorious for earthquakes.
While Huaneng argued that the dam would bring prosperity to a
poverty-stricken region, local Tibetans — who risk jail or execution for
dissent — and Chinese scientists appealed in vain to the Beijing leadership
to stop the project.
There has been increasing unrest in China over the business interests of
its political dynasties. While former President Jiang Zemin's relatives
dominate the telecoms sector, Li Peng's are the biggest players in the
energy industry.
Although Li Peng retired this year, he still exerts an iron grip over the
nation's lucrative power grid, thanks to deregulation and privatization.
His wife, Zhu Lin, is believed to control a lucrative listed offshoot of
Huaneng while his daughter, Li Xaolin, is the vice president of the
international investment and financing arm of China Power, another energy
One of Li Peng's proteges, Gao Yan, the head of the State Power Corp., is
believed to have fled China last year to avoid a corruption probe.
Huaneng's plans for the lake emerged in 2001 when, after two government
reviews refused to give it the green light, the State Environmental
Protection Agency approved the project.
One official familiar with the negotiations said: "Because Huaneng is so
powerful, there is a lot of political prestige at stake and none of the
officials wanted to come outright and say no."
Although details have been kept secret, it is believed that the dam will be
210 feet tall and cover large amounts of primeval forest. In time, Huaneng
is believed to want to create a series of interconnecting dams in the area.
One Chinese scientist who has studied the project closely believes that the
damage caused by the dam and the risk of earthquake-induced flooding are
"Ganzi is what we call a bio-hotspot and is set in one of the most
biologically diverse places in the world," said the scientist on the
condition of anonymity.
"The larger environmental impact will happen downstream, however, because
the whole valley and vegetation will disappear and the animals will
disappear with it. But the reason most local people feel uncomfortable is
because this is an earthquake area and they have decided to build a
reservoir above a river that runs right through [the local capital] Kanding."
Kanding became the focal point for opposition to the dam this year, as
residents complained about the lack of formal debate or consultation over
the scheme.
Neither China Huaneng nor the government would comment.
more information:
Doris Shen , China Program Coordinator
International Rivers Network
1847 Berkeley Way , Berkeley, CA 94703-1576 , USA
tel: +1.510.848.1155 fax: +1.510.848.1008

25.09.03 : Envisat radar altimetry tracks river levels worldwide

Next week ESA previews a new product range called River and Lake Level from Altimetry that provides previously inaccessible information on water levels of major lakes and rivers across the Earth's surface, derived from Envisat and ERS radar altimeter measurements. Hydrologists can use this new data to monitor river heights around the planet, assess the impact of global warming and help with water resource management. Inland water bodies are important as key sources of both water and food for the people living round them. They are also often regions of maximum biodiversity and represent early indicators of regional climate change.
A new processing algorithm has been developed to extract rivers and lakes level findings from raw radar altimeter data. The development effort was headed by Professor Philippa Berry of the UK's De Montfort University: "The new radar altimeter product is a great leap forward for hydrologists. It gives them a new tool to study both the historical changes in water table levels and critically important data to use in forecasting models of water availability, hydroelectric power production, flood and drought events and overall climate changes."
The Radar Altimeter 2 (RA-2) flown aboard ESA's Envisat environmental satellite is the improved follow-on to earlier radar altimeters on the ERS-1 and ERS-2 spacecraft. From its 800 km-high polar orbit it sends 1800 separate radar pulses down to Earth per second then records how long their echoes take to return ­ timing their journey down to under a nanosecond to calculate the exact distance to the planet below.
Radar altimeters were first flown in space back in the 1970s, aboard NASA's Skylab and Seasat. These early efforts stayed focused firmly on the oceans, as less-smooth land surfaces returned indecipherable signals. But as the technology improved reliable land height data became available. Envisat's RA-2 has an innovative 'four-wheel drive' tracking system allowing it to maintain radar contract even as the terrain below shifts from ocean to ice or dry land.
But rivers and lakes have proved tougher targets. Large lakes and wide rivers such as the Amazon often returned tantalising 'wet' radar signals, but echoes from nearby dry land distorted most such signals.
Believing full-fledged river and lake level monitoring was nevertheless feasible, ESA awarded a contract to De Montfort University to develop a suitable software product, with Lancaster University advising on field hydrology.
The De Montfort University team proceeded by painstakingly combing through many gigabytes of raw data acquired over rivers and lakes, taking note of the type of echo shapes that occurred. They sorted different echo shapes into distinct categories, then created an automated process to recognise these shapes within 'wet' signals and eventually extract usable data from them.
"To do this, the shape of each individual echo has to be analysed, and the exact time corresponding to the echo component from the lake or river must be calculated," explained Professor Berry. "As well as identifying and removing the echo from surrounding land, this process is complicated by the frequent occurrence of islands and sandbars, particularly in river systems. But in the end this approach has been shown to be very effective indeed, with successful retrieval of heights from the majority of the Earth's major river and lake systems."
Next week sees the release of the first demonstration products using this new algorithm, containing representative data from the last seven years for rivers and lakes across Africa and South America. The plan is that global altimeter data for the last 12 years will then be reprocessed to provide hydrologists with historical information, invaluable for assessing long-term trends.
ESA also intends to install operational software in its ground segment so eventually the product can be delivered to users in near-real time, within three hours or less of its acquisition from space.
Hydrologists need no previous knowledge of radar altimetry to make use of the new data, with one product known as River Lake Hydrology providing data corresponding to river crossing points, just as though there were actual river gauges in place.
Such gauges are the traditional way that river and lake level measurements are obtained, but their number in-situ has declined sharply in the last two decades. The new product will compensate for this growing lack of ground data.
The other product is called River Lake Altimetry, intended for altimetry specialists, and provides all crossing points for a water body, together with detailed information on all instrumental and geophysical corrections.
Previews of both products can be accessed via a dedicated website (see right hand bar) or on a free CD ­ email to order a copy. Both products are being formally announced at the Hydrology from Space conference, beginning Monday 29 September in Toulouse.

Contact: Jerome Benveniste
European Space Agency

23.09.03 : Environmental groups including WWF are calling for an immediate halt to river regulation and gravel excavation activities that are destroying the last-remaining natural stretches of the Drava and Mura rivers in Croatia.

The untouched lower stretches of the Drava and Mura Rivers at the Slovenian-Croatian border — characterized by pristine floodplain forests, river islands, gravel banks, and side branches — are being replaced with a canal by the Croatian Water Authorities. The canal will form a new border between Slovenia and Croatia. The work threatens parts of the second-largest floodplain forest in the Danube Basin, as well as endangered species such as the white-tailed eagle, black stork, and otter.
"Croatia is systematically ruining a remarkable river corridor of European importance in this region and Slovenia is tolerating the territorial encroachment the new border represents," says David Reeder, WWF International's Drava Coordinator. "This is being carried out without an Environmental Impact Assessment, breaches several international agreements, and violates EU environmental law."
"For more then ten years, the preservation of the Drava and Mura corridor — which runs from Austria through Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary down to the Danube River in Serbia — has been prepared by experts, local people and politicians," argues Dr Martin Schneider-Jacoby from Euronatur. "This unique riverine lifeline should be developed as a special tourist attraction for the border region between the five countries, combining thermal spas, protected areas, and vineyards, and attractive bicycle trails instead of being used as a gravel pit for a very short time."
In contrast to the destruction in Croatia, the upstream stretches of the Drava and Mura Rivers in Austria are currently undergoing ambitious restoration, at a cost of some 12 million Euros including EU support, to create a natural river ecosystem. Slovenia has also received international assistance to develop restoration projects for the Mura River.
"The river is being protected in one place and destroyed in another — it makes no sense," says Arno Mohl of WWF-Austria. "In Austria we are restoring the river Drava and Mura and in Croatia they are readily destroying what we are paying so much to get back. Perfectly good alternatives exist which are not so environmentally damaging: they should obviously be considered, for the good of the country and the future of the river and the people who live along it."
Slovenia's accession to the EU requires the country to make agreements with Croatia on the border issue. The solution appears to be that the old border along both rivers is replaced, after an exchange of territories, by a new boundary along the middle of the newly canalised rivers. Effectively this will be the new external frontier of the enlarged EU.
"This border solution does not consider the preservation of this unique environment; moreover it breaches international environmental agreements signed by both countries. It also violates EU environmental laws, such as the Water Framework Directive and the Birds and Habitats Directives," says Irma Popovic of Green Action Croatia.
"This only testifies to the strength of the water lobby and their attitude towards nature conservation, in both Slovenia and Croatia. The historical border is being sacrificed for the sake of a small yet powerful interest group," says Borut Stumberger of DOPPS-Birdlife Slovenia. "In the near future our two countries could be separated by an artificial canal, instead of a protected green corridor which would achieve a peaceful and long-term co-existence for us. This is why we are pleading that the historical borders be retained."
These works constitute the biggest impact on the ecosystem of the Drava and Mura since the political changes at the beginning of the 1990s.
"These works are being carried out because of outdated water management practices, totally at odds with the best practice now being followed in Europe — and also because of economic incentives that persist in Croatia," says Helena Hecimovic, President of the Drava League in Croatia. "The 5 million cubic metres of gravel are being taken out of the natural riverbed of the Drava to be used for the construction of national highways. For the water lobby in Croatia it's a hugely profitable enterprise."
WWF, Euronatur, and national organizations such as the Drava League and Green Action in Croatia and DOPPS-Birdlife Slovenia, are calling for an immediate halt to the destruction of Europe’s natural heritage in Croatia; for the protection of the Drava-Mura 'Lifeline' in the long term; and peaceful co-existence between Croatia and Slovenia across the historical border.
<>original pressrelease (with potos and graphics)
For further information:
David Reeder , WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme Office, Tel.: +36 20 514 8786
Arno Mohl, WWF-Austria, Tel.: +43 676 83 488 300
Helena Hecimovic, Drava League, Tel.: +385 48 623 750
Dr. Borut Stumberger, DOPPS-Birdlife Slovenia, Tel.: +386 513 10 660
Irma Popovic, Green Action Croatia, Tel.: +385 48 130 96
Dr Martin Schneider-Jacoby, Euronatur, Tel.: +49 7732 9272 -21
Laurice Ereifej, WWF Hungary ,Tel: +36 1 214-5554/124

22.09.03 : European Commission proposals fail to protect groundwater (EEB Press release)

Brussels, 22 September 2003 The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Europe’s largest federation of environmental citizens’ organisations, assesses the Commission’s Directive proposal for protecting groundwater from 19 September as falling short to tackle the alarming state and trends of our groundwater quality.
It is disappointing that after two years of consultation with experts from Member States, Industry and NGOs that the Commission has presented a Directive text which misses the opportunity to protect our remaining unpolluted groundwater or set EU harmonised approach to deal with hazardous or potentially hormone disrupting chemicals that can persist for decades in the groundwater.
While the EEB is pleased to see that the proposals will require Member States to take precautionary action for an indicative list of chemicals, we are concerned that the twenty years of experience gained with a similar decentralised approach has not led to sufficient action being taken. If the Commission is serious about dealing with the wide-spread use of hazardous chemicals polluting groundwater it should adopt the approach established by the WFD for chemicals polluting surface waters, with common and harmonised measures including product controls and market bans.
For the first time the Commission proposes legislation that establishes groundwater quality standards for pesticides leaving Member States to establish their own for other pollutants. The EEB opposes such an EU pesticides standard as it relaxes the existing groundwater directive (which prohibits entry to groundwater) and thereby gives agricultural businesses a special right to pollute up to the standard, with no effective controls to prevent this from happening.
“The Commission has not taken its responsibility to provide appropriate EU actions for a very serious European health and environmental threat, but rather leaves it up to Member States to deal with.” Says Stefan Scheuer from the EEB. “A system based on EU or national quality standards is not a good idea. We do not know enough about groundwater and compliance checking is extremely inaccurate. Instead of waiting until it is too late, and large parts of our groundwater are polluted, common action above the ground would be required.”
“A general 0.1 microgram/l pesticides standard for groundwater is meaningless for human and ecological health.”, says Robert Cunningham from The Wildlife Trusts, UK. “The 1991 EU principal decision not to allow market approval for any pesticides showing up in groundwater will be undermined”.
Groundwater is the single most important source of drinking water and the major contributor to the flow in rivers and lakes. Precautionary protection of groundwater from chemical pollution is therefore a precondition for sustainable development and already enshrined by the 1980 Groundwater Directive, which will be replaced by the Water Framework Directive in 2013. But the WFD has serious gaps which permit further pollution of groundwater, leaving it up to Member States to determine how to stop chemicals entering groundwater and only requires action after increasing pollution is observed over several years.

Further Information:
- Stefan Scheuer, European Environmental Bureau, +32 2 289 13 04,;
- Robert Cunningham, The Wildlife Trusts, UK, + 44 1380725670,
-EU Pressrelease: Commission acts to protect groundwater against pollution (en, de, fr)

16.09.03 : Iraq wants to clinch water deal with Syria, Turkey (Reuter)

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq said its share of water from the Tigris and
Euphrates was not enough and it wanted talks with Turkey and Syria,
who also use water from the rivers.
"We are intending to hold talks with our neighbors very soon to reach
an agreement that divides water among the three of us in a just
manner," said newly appointed Minister of Water Resources Abdul Latif
The Euphrates and Tigris both originate in Turkey. The Euphrates
winds through Syria before entering Iraq, while the Tigris flows
straight into Iraq from Turkey.
"I believe the quantity of water entering to our territory is not
enough," Rasheed said.
Syria and Iraq both say the current flow from Turkey is too low for
their needs, which include drinking and irrigation as well as some
power generation.
Iraq, Turkey, and Syria have held several meetings in the past on
water-sharing, and Rasheed blamed the ousted government of Saddam
Hussein for their failure to reach a deal.
"Because of its bad relations with its neighbours, the former
government couldn't reach an agreement on water quotas," Rasheed
said. "Now we have a different strategy. We want to improve our ties
with our neighbors."
Saddam's government used to accuse Turkey of blocking efforts to
reach a water-sharing accord.
Restore Marshes
Rasheed also said he had asked the U.S.-backed Governing Council for
US$1 billion to carry out water resources projects in Iraq for 2004.
Among those projects are efforts to restore marshes in southern Iraq
that Saddam's government drained in the 1990s as part of a campaign
to drive out Marsh Arabs, who had supported an uprising against his
"We have already started pumping water in that area in order to
restore the marshes. It will take time, but we aim to restore all of
the marsh area in southern Iraq," Rasheed said.

By Hassan Hafidh, Reuters (via IRN)

15.09.03 : Nigeria: Power firm floods more than 100 Nigerian villages (AFP)

Kano, Nigeria
More than 100 villages were flooded at the weekend after Nigeria's
state power firm opened an endangered hydroelectric dam, a government
spokesman said Monday.
Mahmud Abdullahi, a spokesman for the northern state of Niger, told
AFP that the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) had opened the
gates on Nigerian largest hydroelectric station on Saturday.
The Shiriro dam was at risk from rising floodwaters coming down the
Kaduna River from further north in Nigeria, where thousands of
families have already been driven from their homes during annual
Officials said that villagers living downstream of Shiriro were
warned before the water was released and there were no reports of any
But hundreds of affected villagers staged a peaceful protest Monday
in front of the office of the state governor in Minna, capital of the
The government is discussing with NEPA officials the best way to
solve the perennial problem of flooding caused by water released from
the dam.
In 1999 at least seven local government districts in the state were
flooded when water from the dam was released.
Thousands of houses and buildings in the state, including schools and
hospitals, were either destroyed or damaged in the disaster.
Eight people were killed and 2,215 displaced in flooding in Kano
State, in northern Nigeria, last week, state officials said.
And in nearby Kaduna State, flooding last week displaced over 5,000
people, but no one was killed, the Nigerian Red Cross said. State
officials said that two people had been killed.
Red Cross coordinators said that 257 families -- about 1,300 people
-- had been evacuated and resettled in three camps in Kaduna, 186
kilometresmiles) north of Abuja.

Ryan Hoover
Africa Program, International Rivers Network
1847 Berkeley Way , Berkeley, CA 94703 USA
Phone: (510) 848-1155 Fax: (510) 848-1008


12.09.03 : WWF urges Iceland to establish protected areas in wake of controversial Kárahnjúkar dam decision

Gland, Switzerland - WWF remains concerned over Iceland’s biggest dam project ever, and calls on the Icelandic government to review the potential impacts of this project on one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in Europe.

The controversial Kárahnjúkar project — involving 3 large dams (the largest being 190 metres high) and a 57km2 reservoir — will supply electricity to an aluminium smelter to be built by Alcoa. It is being built in the East Icelandic highlands and will fundamentally alter the fragile environment of the area. Five hundred nest sites of the rare pink-footed goose will be flooded and Iceland’s only reindeer herd is likely to diminish. Wetlands downstream are also likely to be impacted but according to independent studies, the economic benefits of the project are uncertain

Despite protests from WWF and other NGOs and a ruling from the Icelandic Planning Agency against the dam, the project received the green light from the Icelandic government earlier this year and construction has now begun.

The resulting disturbance was noted by a WWF team visiting the dam site recently. Lorries roar up and down a new road in what was previously a tranquil and undisturbed Arctic landscape. Camps for construction workers near the site to be flooded look like ugly scars and several years of noisy construction work lie ahead before the flooding of the area in 2006.

While the battle to preserve this area from destruction has been lost, WWF, together with its Icelandic partner organisation INCA (Icelandic Nature Conservation Association), is now focusing on achieving protection for the pristine parts of the highlands, including one of the remaining untouched glacial rivers, Jökulsá á Fjöllum. This river also has hydropower potential but another project would cause significant environmental damage to the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park.

Dr Ute Collier, WWF’s Dams Initiative Leader, and Samantha Smith, Director of WWF’s Arctic Programme, met with the Icelandic environment minister, officials of the Icelandic environment agency, and representatives from the the electricity company Landsvirkjun and Alcoa to discuss the potential impacts of the Kárahnjúkar dam project. WWF is urging the Icelandic government to designate a new national park and 2 Ramsar sites, wetlands of international importance, to protect the area of the Eastern Icelandic highlands unaffected by the dam.

“It’s heart-breaking to see how the construction work is already affecting what was previously one of Europe’s last true wilderness area,” said Dr Ute Collier. “But WWF is fighting on to ensure that at least the remainder of this area will be protected from further destructive developments.”

more information / source: :

For further information:
Dr Ute Collier
WWF Dams Initiative Leader
Tel.: +44 1483 412549

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