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One river, numerous desires: disagreements about the Alpine Rhine

Numerous users, numerous conflicts: the Rhesi project aims to prevent flooding, protect natural areas and much more besides. © Frank Schultze, Zeitenspiegel

A current bone of contention between different interest groups is the priority to be given to the various uses made of the Alpine Rhine: as a farming area, as a habitat for the little ringed plover and the German tamarisk, or as a drinking water reservoir. SPARE, a new European Union project for the Alpine region, will offer assistance for the holistic management of watercourses.

Flood protection is being improved along the 30-kilometre or so stretch of the Rhine between its confluence with the River Ill and down to Lake Constance near the border between Switzerland and Austria. The two countries are to implement the large-scale Rhesi project for this purpose, with the joint Rhine Commission due to decide on possible variants at the end of April 2016. In the view of nature conservationists, the proposals do not go far enough. Lukas Indermaur, spokesman for the “Lebendiger Alpenrhein” environmental platform, summarises their concerns: “For people to relax and enjoy themselves on the Rhine and for animals and plants to propagate once more, the river needs as much space as possible”, he says. A blockade by individual drinking water suppliers has meant that the legal requirements have only been met along 15% of the stretch in question. On the other hand, municipalities are concerned about drinking water supplies while farmers fear the loss of fertile land.

Similar conflicts have arisen in many places about the management of rivers in the Alpine regions. The recent SPARE initiative, co-financed under the EU’s Alpine space programme, is intended to offer assistance in improving the bases for decision-making and ensuring full participation of the interest groups concerned. IRKA, the International Governmental Commission for the Alpine Rhine, is an observer. Describing his expectations, IRKA member Helmut Kindle, head of Liechtenstein’s Office for the Environment, says: “We wish to contribute our experiences to the international project as best we can, while at the same time learning from the examples of other countries”. With its responsibility for project communications, CIPRA International also has a significant role to play.

Sources and further information: www.rhesi.org (de), www.lebendigerrhein.org (de), www.alpenrhein.net/ (de), www.alpine-space.eu/SPARE

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