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Better protection for Alpine rivers

A landmark EU decision has now made it more difficult to obtain permission for new hydropower plants. © Xenos_wikimedia commens

A European legal ruling has strengthened the protection of Alpine rivers. Derogations for hydro plants or snow-making facilities are now more difficult to obtain. The politicians are up in arms.

The European Court of Justice has recently made clear that changes to rivers that worsen their condition are not permitted. Exceptions for hydropower plants or snow guns will now only rarely be granted. It is emphasised that interventions are prohibited even if they do not entail a downgrading in quality. The legal basis for this decision was the European water framework directive, prompted by the proposed deepening of the Weser river in Germany.

The immediate reaction shows the degree of pressure facing Alpine rivers: several Austrian politicians – including Andrä Rupprechter, the minister responsible for the environment and water – have requested that the water framework directive be revised. They base their reasoning on the notion that the expansion of renewable energies should not be restricted.

Rivers in South Tyrol also face an “uphill” battle: the water protection plan recently adopted by the provincial government permits a further expansion of hydroelectric power. The draft was originally produced by local authority specialists, but then debated by representatives of the energy industry at the so-called “energy table” and subsequently watered down. Andreas Riedl, Executive Director of CIPRA South Tyrol, showed his disappointment, stating: “The political credo in South Tyrol is clear: the exploitation of water as a resource takes priority over its protection”.

Back in 1992 a CIPRA study found that less than ten percent of Alpine rivers existed in a natural or near-natural state. In 2014, the Umweltdachverband listed 212 hydropower plants that were planned for Austria alone, with around half of them in environmentally sensitive locations.

Sources and further information:

http://www.oekobuero.at/eugh-staerkt-europaeischen-gewaesserschutz (de)

http://www.argealp.org/meldungen/arge-alp-vorstoss-zur-aenderung-der-eu-wasserrahmenrichtlinie (de)

http://www.tt.com/politik/10271153-91/rupprechter-attackiert-eu-bei-wasserkraft.csp (de)

http://www.umwelt.bz.it/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&task=download&id=608_04ffa1e716485c03092434c251084938 (de)

http://curia.europa.eu

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