Pressreleases / Communiqués / Pressemitteilungen 
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06.09.04 : Seas Only Hope for World Water Supply, Says Spain (Reuters)

MADRID - The world's fast-growing thirst for water can only be met by purifying sea water as rivers and reservoirs become unable to meet demand, Spain said last week unveiling a major program to fight its own chronic shortages.

Spain's Socialist government, elected in March, has ditched plans to reroute the country's longest river to irrigate its parched southeast, saying it would harm fragile wetlands in the north, cost too much and not provide enough water anyway.
Under new proposals, a variety of smaller schemes to improve existing infrastructure and build desalination plants would provide 1,063 cubic hectometers of water - or just under three percent of Spain's consumption - much of it for agriculture and tourism along the Mediterranean coast.

"Sea water, experts tell us, is the water of the future for humanity because continental fresh water will increasingly suffer from problems of scarcity, pollution and supply," Narbona told a news conference, saying Spain aimed to be at the vanguard of desalination techniques.

Spain, which suffers annual water shortages, has been using the technology for 30 years and has 700 such plants - making it the world's fifth highest consumer.

The new program will cost an estimated 3.8 billion euros. Spain's proposals received a warm welcome from EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom and Madrid hopes the European Union will cover up to 1.26 billion euros of its cost.

The first water under the new scheme is expected to flow in 2005, the minister said. To accompany the plan, the government will launch a campaign to educate Spaniards on the importance of conserving water.

It will also attempt to classify more accurately how water is used in Spain, one of Europe's most arid countries where summer demand is swelled by millions of tourists who pack its sweltering coastal resorts.

Under the new scheme, water will be priced according to its intended use: farmers will face the lowest charges, with industry paying a little more and tourist facilities and golf courses paying the most.

The government hopes the energy-intensive desalination plants could be powered, at least in part, by renewable energy. After consultation with the private sector, Narbona said this could require additional research which could be funded by the government.




From 17 to 21 May 2004 there took place in Zagreb, Croatia's capital, the 3rd international conference of the European Centre for River Restoration (ECRR), organised jointly with Croatian Waters (Hrvatske Vode), the national water management authority. Nearly 40 conference papers are focused upon river restoration as part of integrated water management. The well-illustrated proceedings are available in hard-cover form from the ECRR secretariat, hosted by the Wetland Development and Restoration Department of the Dutch Institute for Water Management RIZA in Lelystad, or can be downloaded, chapter by chapter, from this site:
more information


25.08.04: Commission Statement on Opening of Bystroye Canal in Ukraine

The European Commission deeply regrets the reported opening to navigation of the initial part of the Bystroye canal between the River Danube and the Black Sea. The canal route goes through a specially protected UNESCO World Heritage area in the Danube Delta which is also subject to the international Ramsar Convention on the protection of wetlands.

Commission President Romano Prodi and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten had already expressed their serious concerns during the recent EU-Ukraine Summit of 8 July. These concerns included the lack of a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment for the construction project, and the Commission had asked Ukraine to halt the works pending a full assessment. The concerns were also conveyed twice in writing by Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström to the Ukrainian authorities and in the margins of the recent Danube Cooperation Process meeting of Foreign Ministers in Bucharest.

The Commission reiterates its position and would welcome receiving reassurances from the Ukrainian Government confirming its intention not to proceed further with this project pending preparation of a proper Environmental Impact Assessment to international standards, including the appropriate public consultation and an evaluation of the transboundary impact.


Arguments and more informations:
(russ, ukr, eng)

19.08.04: International organizations accept 'environmental flows' as solution to social conflict over water

Stockholm, Sweden, 19 August 2004 (IUCN) - A range of international organizations today accepted 'environmental flows' as the tool to ward off social conflict and environmental degradation due to the overuse of water in the river basins of the world. The endorsement was received at a special session at the 14th World Water Week underway in Stockholm.

'We believe the implementation of environmental flows is a necessary step to increase water security,' said Mr. Anders Bertell, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, host of the conference.

The acceptance by the international community in Stockholm of 'environmental flows' is a major milestone because it demonstrates that 'environmental flows' has become widely accepted as a standard tool in modern water management.

"We commend the work of IUCN on environmental flows and are currently reviewing ways to contribute to negotiated approaches to water allocation," said Mr. M. Gopalakrishnan, Secretary General of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage.

'Environmental flows' means that water in rivers is managed in such a way that downstream users and ecosystems receive enough water to remain 'in business'. It entails negotiations between water users, based on an understanding of the impacts their water use has on others, and on their natural environment.

"IUCN is already working in ten basins around the world to implement this approach, and with this endorsement we are confident that number will multiply in coming years. That is good news for everyone who depends on water, including nature," said Dr Ger Bergkamp of the IUCN Water and Nature Initiative.

This practical tool enables water managers to move from a situation of uncontrolled use of and conflict over water, to use of water that is rational and negotiated. In a time where some rivers no longer reach the sea and others suffer from increasing social conflict and environmental destruction because of excessive water use, such a tool is of vital importance. Furthermore, in poor countries, where millions of people are dependent on what nature provides, environmental flows clearly contributes to poverty alleviation.

Experience with environmental flows in various basins also shows that it is wise to start implementation before social and environmental problems arise. Early application of the tool saves money and ensures long-term prosperity in river basins, as the experience from Australia shows.

"In the Murray Darling Basin, Australian Governments are now investing 500 million Australian dollars to return the system to environmentally sustainable levels of extraction. These are costs that can be saved if one applies environmental flows earlier", said Mr. John Scanlon, Head of the IUCN Environmental Law Programme.

The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) all endorsed the approach and said they would use it in future.

About environmental flows
More information on the concept and its application can be found in the IUCN guidebook 'Flow - the essentials of environmental flows', which is now widely recognised as the most comprehensive state-of-the-art guide on the topic.

The book can be downloaded directly from or through

More information

Dr. Ger Bergkamp Coordinator Water & Nature Initiative
IUCN - The World Conservation Union +41.79.615.0479

Mr. Elroy Bos Senior Communication Officer
IUCN - The World Conservation Union +

Created in 1948, IUCN - The World Conservation Union brings together 78 states, 107 government agencies, 750-plus NGOs, 34 affiliates, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries in a unique worldwide partnership. IUCN's mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to con-serve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

IUCN is the world's largest environmental knowledge network and has helped over 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. IUCN is a multi-cultural, multilingual organization with 1000 staff located in 42 countries. Its headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland.

18.08.04: Spain: A turnaround in water management (WWF )

It was huge, immensely dangerous, the biggest of its kind ever proposed. Threatening livelihoods and ecosystems, it ignored environmental directives and mocked the idea of spending public money responsibly. Spain’s Ebro Transfer — a network of dams and pipes that would carry 1,050 cubic hectometres of water per year out of the Ebro River Basin into four other river systems thousands of kilometres away — had to be stopped.

The situation called for dramatic and determined action, and that’s what it got. For three years, hundreds of thousands of people gathered at massive demonstrations throughout the country. Fifteen thousand Spaniards travelled to Brussels to demonstrate against their country receiving EU funds for the project. Public meetings, leaflets, concerts, fiestas, giant flamingo puppets, even a paella competition — all these and more helped spur action against the national government’s cavalier water grab.

“I have always had an interest in environmental and social issues,” explains local activist Brian Cutts, “but I had never been involved in anything so incredible before.”

Golden opportunity
In April this year, Spain’s newly elected Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced that “the Ebro Transfer will be repealed and that a review of the SNHP may stop some specific infrastructures, replacing them with more efficient, cheaper, and less disputed projects.”

SNHP is the controversial Spanish National Hydrological Plan, approved by the previous government in 2001. The Ebro Transfer was a key part of the plan, which aimed to redistribute Spain’s water through massive engineering projects.

Zapatero’s announcement has given campaigners some breathing space, but more importantly, it offers an opportunity to change the direction of water management in Europe.

“It also offers us a golden opportunity to make use of the beauty of the Ebro Delta to promote some kind of sustainable ecotourism,” hopes Cutts.

Holiday in the sun
A magnet for sun seekers, southern Spain boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year. With an average annual rainfall as low as 250mm, a cloud-free holiday is practically guaranteed.

At Costa Blanca, Costa Brava, Costa del Sol, and other evocatively named locations, the Mediterranean seaside is encrusted with resorts catering to holidaymakers, and more are planned. Irrigation supports flowers, fruits, vegetables, olives, and vineyards, which flourish in the warm weather and feed a lucrative export market.

It’s a familiar Mediterranean scene: just add water and you have paradise.

But the need for water can drown out common sense. And this is how the plan arose to siphon off some of the abundant water of Spain’s north and send it to the parched but sunny south — where it could support year-round greenhouse agriculture, sparkling swimming pools, and emerald golf courses.

Close to nature
Northern Spain receives up to 950mm of rain annually, and it’s here that the Ebro River arises. One of the longest rivers on the Iberian Peninsula, it flows out of the Cantabrian mountains through Catalunya’s Rioja wine region and on to the Mediterranean. Midway between Barcelona and Valencia the river spreads out to into a magnificent delta.

”The Ebro Delta is incredible, it’s another world,” says WWF campaigner Paloma Agrasot.

Noted as an Important Bird Area, listed as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, and part of the EU’s protected Natura 2000 network, the delta is an 8,000-ha mosaic of sand dunes, salt lagoons, and rice cultivation. About 300 bird species — 60 per cent of all species found in Europe — rest, nest, or feed here. Bird counts have recorded up to 180,000 individuals.

Bigger than flamingos
Changes to the river’s flow would threaten the nests of some 30,000 pairs of waterbirds, including those of the charismatic greater flamingo. But the potential for disaster was considerably larger than a flock of big pink birds.

Deltas are ephemeral landforms. The Ebro Delta requires an estimated 1.3–2 million cubic metres of sediment per year just to maintain its current condition.

Existing dams have already reduced the amount of sediment carried by the river. Further dam building would cause irreversible erosion damage, affect fish migration, and, by diminishing the flow of freshwater nutrients, kill off fish living in the delta.

In addition, the proposed infrastructure works would affect riparian forests and other habitats, threaten the survival of the endangered Iberian lynx, and facilitate the spread of feral fish and other aquatic organisms, such as zebra mussels — listed by the IUCN–The World Conservation Union as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species and already found in the Ebro — between river basins.

People too would suffer.

“I could see the balance between river level and sea level would have been lost, creating serious saliniation problems and affecting the future of our crops,” says rice farmer Jordi Prats. “The economic development of this area would have suffered a severe blow.”

Scientific research also showed that for every cubic metre of Ebro water that failed to reach the Mediterranean, an estimated 200kg less of sardines could be fished from the waters — a blow to the area’s important fishery.

“I have already noticed a slowing down to local economies in the region,” adds Cutts. “For many years, young people have had to move to large cities to find work. The population of most towns is ageing. The only chance for future livelihoods depends on the area’s natural resources —and the principal one is the river and its delta. So the transfer would have been the final nail in the coffin.”

A worrying precedent
The Ebro Transfer would not have been Spain’s first project to move water from one river basin to another. A case study of an earlier transfer from the Tajo River into the Segura basin shows worrying consequences.

Since the works were completed in 1973, water demands and fertiliser and pesticide use have increased in the Segura River Basin, while reduced flow in the Tajo means the river is unable to keep pace with effluents pouring in from Madrid. The middle Tajo is so severely polluted that it’s unfit even to provide irrigation water. And the Segura, which was to benefit from the transfer, now has the dubious distinction of being the most polluted river in Spain, and possibly in Europe.

Problems, not solutions
By not addressing basic issues of water management, the Tajo Transfer created far more problems than it solved. This looked certain to be repeated in the Ebro Transfer, with illegal boreholes and unsustainable development proposals already proliferating in areas set to receive water.

And how ‘fresh’ would the transferred water be? As with many rivers flowing through agricultural and urbanized areas, the lower Ebro is polluted and saline. Below Zaragoza, where the proposed diversionary dams would have been installed, the water is undrinkable without treatment. That’s in a good year. In drought years, which could occur more frequently according to climate change modelling, water in the expensively constructed pipes could be not just dirty, but barely trickling.

In fact, with its reliance on dams and transfers, much of the SNHP is a yesterday’s plan. Despite huge advances in scientific understanding of riverine ecology, which are reflected in EU policies such as the Water Framework Directive and the Global Water Initiative, water is still treated as a commodity: something to be bought, sold, and transported. The full value of water and the ecosystems it underpins is rarely considered, and water is not given a real price that reflects environmental values as well as all the costs of treatment and delivery.

“We haven’t seen a good analysis of water needs in this situation,” Schmidt observes. “If you ask ‘how much water do you want?’ of course the answer is ‘as much as we can get’. If you ask ‘how much water do you want at this price?’ you’ll get a different answer.”

Illegal as well
The Ebro Transfer also contravened several EU Directives and UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP). Five IHP criteria specifically related to inter-basin transfers state that there must be no reasonable alternatives in the area receiving the water transfer, the resources in the area of origin must be adequate, there must be no substantial environmental damage or cultural disruption, and the benefits must be shared equitably between the donor and receiver areas. None of these criteria were met.

The money grab
At first glance, prices on Ebro water looked good, largely because the money was coming out of someone else’s pocket. Project finances depended heavily on EU Structural Funds — that is, money from EU taxpayers.

Devastating enough as a local issue, the Ebro Transfer took on much wider implications. Allowing it to go ahead using EU funds would set a precedent that would spread the devastation well beyond Spain.

One of the earliest and most outspoken critics of the Ebro Transfer and SNHP is Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, a physicist and economics professor at the University of Zaragoza. Winner of the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize for Europe, Arrojo says the plan is “cynically aimed at using public money to build a gigantic system which would only profit financial speculators, luxury tourist installations, and industrial agriculture.”

Accountability and cooperation
Realising the scope of the issue, campaigners worked to stop the Ebro Transfer by demanding clear accountability in the EU funding process.

”It is important that countries follow EU legislation and water directives in developing projects,” says Agrasot. “It is also essential that the EU has the capacity to assess and monitor projects, and stop any that contravene EU legislation. The process must be clear and manageable, especially with the influx of new countries joining the EU.”

International NGOs such as WWF lobbied the EU to demand that funding go only to projects that meet EU standards.

Local platforms, outspoken and determined, kept the issue in front of the public. People from affected areas knocked on EU doors, walked in, and began talking about the reality of their lives and what they would lose if the transfer went ahead. The European Commission received more letters on this than on any previous issue.

On top of this, scientists provided information on the effects of climate change, weather patterns, loss of biodiversity, and movement of feral species.

”Strategic campaigning and lobbying combined with good scientific research was extremely effective,” says Schmidt. ‘This was a tremendous cooperative effort.”

The next proposal
Following the April announcement, the Spanish government announced an alternative plan on 18 June to replace the Ebro Transfer project. The activists are not relaxing yet.

“The new plan is better,” says Schmidt, “but a lot more could be done.”

“Now the transfer has been stopped, I believe everything will be better,” says Prats. “But we can’t sit back and relax with our arms folded. The future of these lands still needs ideas and work. Politicians have a huge responsibility to channel the effort of citizens and put them to good use.”

The Ebro activists are now pushing for a new water culture. This is a powerful opportunity for the new government to review all the old SNHP proposals and develop projects that are sustainable. Encouragingly, Spain’s new Minister of Environment, Cristina Narbona Ruiz, has already met with environmental NGOs.

Arrojo and others are advocating sustainable water planning that includes recycling, waste reduction, and water quality improvements. Fixing leaky pipes, planting crops which don’t require irrigation, revegetating river banks: these are all alternatives which could be cheaper and more effective in the short term than massive dam building projects — and far more beneficial in the long term.

”The world is changing,” says Schmidt, “and this success is a kick-off point for starting a whole new discussion on how to manage water.”

And as no stranger to arid conditions, Spain is well-positioned to take the lead.

* Saren Starbridge is a freelance writer.

Further information

WWF's work on the Ebro Transfer and SNHP
Over the last three years, WWF and other NGOs and civil society organizations have been campaigning against the Ebro transfer, the most destructive project of the SNHP. WWF welcomes the new Spanish government’s announcement to stop the Ebro river transfer, and is continuing work to ensure that the new government’s revised Spanish National Hydrological Plan (SNHP) does not cause serious environmental, social, or economic losses.

The Ebro Delta
The Ebro Delta is one of the most important areas of the Natura 2000 Network in the European Union, designated as Special Protection Area for birds (SPA), Natural Park, Ramsar site and Important Bird Area (IBA). Some 55,000 people live in the Ebro Delta, 500,000 people visit the area every year, there are 8,000 hectares of natural wetland, and 21,000 hectares are devoted to growing rice. The fishing industry contributes 18 million Euros to the local economy annually.


12.07.04 : Vacancy Notice at UNESCO-IHP / Poste vacant A UNESCO-PHI

UNESCO inform you that the Senior Programme Specialist post, Chief of the Section on Sustainable Water Resources
Development and Management, Division of Water Sciences
, is open for
recruitment and applications are now being accepted
. More

UNESCO vous informe que le poste de spécialiste du programme, chef
de la section sur la gestion et le développement durable des ressources en
eau à la Division des sciences de l'eau
, est ouvert au recrutement et que
les dossiers des postulants peuvent être déposés à partir de maintenant. Plus

03.07.04 : Dresden Elbe Valley inscibed on UNESCO World Heritage Liste

Germany - Dresden Elbe Valley. The 18th and 19th century cultural landscape of Dresden Elbe Valley extends some 18-km along the river from Übigau Palace and Ostragehege fields in the northwest to the Pillnitz Palace and the Elbe River Island in the southeast. It features low meadows, and is crowned by the Pillnitz Palace and the centre of Dresden with its numerous monuments and parks from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The landscape also features 19th and 20th century suburban villas and gardens and valuable natural features. Some terraced slopes along the river are still used for viticulture and some old villages have retained their historic structure and elements from the industrial revolution: notably the 147-m Blue Wonder steel bridge (1891-1893), the single-rail suspension cable railway (1898-1901), and the funicular (1894-1895). The passenger steamships (the oldest from 1879) and shipyard (ca 1900) are still in use.

Kontakt: Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V.    Tel.: (07732) 9995-11 Mobil: (0175) 5724833
Fax: (07732) 9995-77 E-Mail:

29.06.04 : Danube day was celebrated on 29.06.04 in 13 countries across Europe, uniting East and West

go to

28.06.04 : Conference Announcement: 9th international Living Lakes Conference in Canada

The 9th international Living Lakes Conference will take place in British Columbia, Canada, from September 26 to October 2, 2004. Hosted by the Global Nature Fund, the East Kootenay Environmental Society and the District of Invermere, this conference facilitates a dialogue on sustainable land and water use in recreational and tourism developments, and in business and corporate practices.

The Conference focuses on sustainable tourism and corporate social responsibility for water ecosystems !

Program and registration :


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