Changing River Policies in Central Europe
Lessons from the Elbe and Danube Floods 2002
Zinke Environment Consulting for Central and Eastern Europe,
Vienna, Austria.


One of the largest catastrophes world-wide

In August 2002 several extreme storms and floods killed 100 people in Germany, Russia (Black Sea coast: 55), Austria and the Czech Republic. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated, harvests spoiled and infrastructure destroyed. Statistically, in many places the worst events ever in history (once in 100 to 2,000 years).

The Flood in the Czech Republic
Early August 2002: Heavy rain falls lead to a flood of the Vltava river (tributary of the Elbe; known from the Smetana symphony "Die Moldau"):
The biggest floods since the 15th century in Bohemia:
o 17 victims
o 753 towns and villages flooded
o Over 1,000 houses and 250 bridges destroyed
o 220,000 people evacuated
o 24,000 emergency workers helped
o Big damage to cultural monuments, e.g. Cesky Krumlov Unesco World Heritage Site
o Over half a million books damaged in libraries

The Spolana chemical plant in Neratovice was 80 % flooded by the near-by Elbe: Some chlorine leaked from a flood-damaged tank. Poisonous dioxins leaked from flooded old contaminated sites into the Elbe river. Greenpeace started a legal case.

The nation's insurance companies expect 79,000 flood-related claims, amounting to ? 1 billion.
Total damage = 2.34 billion Euro = ca. 3% of GDP; the 1997 flood at the Morava and Oder river systems : 536 municipalities, 80,000 people evacuated, and total damage over ? 2 billion.
2002 floods directly affected tourism; the economy lost some ? 0.5 billion.
Repairs of the flood damage will last 2-3 years

The Flood in Praha
Vltava floods peak on 14 August: Ca. 8 % of the city under water: 20,000 people were evacuated, dozens of houses collapsed.
17 stations of the subway system destroyed, major city traffic problems until 2003.
Prague zoo: Several animals were killed (incl. one elephant); several sea lions escaped, one was found in the German Elbe.
Various international aid (funds, equipment) was provided from foreign governments.
EU - immediate flood aid: almost 58 million ?.

German Elbe River Flood
12 August: extreme rain falls in southern Saxony - emergency alert
13 August: Parts of Dresden drown (Weisseritz tributary)
15 August: Czech Elbe reaches Saxony
16 August: Historic marks surpassed: highest level for 1,000 years (flood peak on 17 Aug.);
30,000 people evacuated.
Evacuation of several hospitals (partly by army helicopters),
15% of households without electricity for one week, all schools closed;
1/3 of hotel beds affected.Huge deposits of flood waste left from households.

The Flood in Dresden
Historic centre with hundreds of cultural monuments (Semper opera and Zwinger palace) surrendered.
Damage to 23 city museums (loss of deposits and exhibition rooms), also theatres (e.g. loss of their sceneries) and movie theatres.
No WWTP for 500,000 people - discharge into Elbe.
Dresden central station 2 km away from Elbe turned into river bed; first trains were running 4 days later;

Middle Elbe Flood
Evacuations started on 15 August: several old dikes broke.
Bitterfeld (16,000 inhab.): Industry park with 350 chemical companies threatened (former chemical center of GDR with huge old deposits of unknown contamination): Big fight of local volunteers to improve dikes succeeded.
Province Sachsen-Anhalt - Magdeburg: 20,000 people (10%) evacuated: 3 m inundation of the city.
Over 10 days, dozens of cities & villages were flooded one after the other downstream up to Hamburg.
o Up to over 26,000 soldiers (out of 41,000 in Germany!) were helping, incl. 61
helicopters.
o Tent camp set up in Pirna for 15,000 people.
o 30 mio. sand bags ordered within one week, problems of supply - ordered
all over Europe.
o In Sachsen-Anhalt 4,000 companies affected, in Saxony in 1,800 companies.
19 August: the Elbe flood reaches the provinces in northern Germany: 60,000 people evacuated (very soft dikes), a few 100 km south in Saxony the first people started moving back into their damaged houses.

German Elbe Flood Facts
16 victims.
15 billion Euros of damage in over 100 communes: over 100,000 people evacuated, 337,000 people and many 1,000 commercial enterprises affected.
Infrastructure: 180 bridges, 740 km of roads. 65% of the large province of Saxony affected, 20% of its railway system destroyed, many famous cultural monuments damaged.
38 million sandbags "heroically" built up, preventing more damages. 128,000 aid persons, the biggest disaster relief action after World War II.
The economic reconstruction of East Germany since 1990 largely destroyed.

Kamp River Floods (Eastern Austria)
Small moutain tributary of the Danube
6 August: Heavy rain falls surpass the capacities of the Kamp river reservoirs:
600 m3/s had to be released downstream (mean water discharge: 5 m3/s; big flood: 100-160 m3/s like in 1996: "These rain fall volumes were beyond imagination, a 2,000 (500) years flood".
12 August: 2nd flood at the Kamp
Overall result: Devastation of several villages, most commercial enterprises and infrastructure.
New river beds formed (e.g. near one village 14,000 t of gravel moved);
1,500 drinking water wells polluted; 3,000 cooling machines destroyed.

German and Austrian Danube
7 August: Danube flood in Bavaria; big floods in Salzburg (Salzach tributary) and Steyr (Enns tributary)
13 August: Bavarian Danube has highest level since decades
Upper Austria: thousands of cellars flooded for weeks
15 August: Flood peak in Vienna (10,500 m3/sec, a 100 years event): no major damages due to floodplains upstream and reservoir in the city ("New Danube" canal in the former floodplain).

Damages in Austria
Total damage in Austria (80,000 squ.km, 8 mio. People): Ca. 7 bio. ? : 42,000 objects affected, 10,000 houses heavily damaged.
Salzburg: 2,400 damaged objects, ? 0.2 bio. damage
Upper Austria: 30,000 objects, 12,600 ha agricultural land. ? 3 bio. damages
Lower Austria: 10,000 objects, 10,000 ha agricultural land. ? 3 bio. damages.
Big impact on tourism industry.
11.000 soldiers and 1.500 police men; 7,000 aid persons (fire brigade, army, red cross etc.) and 75 prisoners.
Over 1,000 people saved from 12 helicopters.
Huge solidarity by thousands of volunteers.
12,000 electricity counters have to be replaced.
Agric. products contaminated (e.g. oil) -> increased market prices for e.g. salad

Flood Causes
No-one is yet ready to give precise answers for these events but there is agreement on multiple causes:
o Extreme weather events (climate change!): Central Europe receives more and more intensive rainfalls.
o Weakness of the existing flood protection schemes: e.g. old dikes espec. in East Germany, wrongly managed reservoirs: upcoming legal cases against dam operators.
o Weakness of the alarm, monitoring and information systems: Many damages could have been prevented during the - actually - available few hours.
o Multiple constructions (roads; residential, service and industry buildings) permitted in flood risk areas.
o Elimination of natural flood retention areas across the basins (e.g. sponge effect of forests).
o Sealing of surfaces (in Germany 120 ha/day) reduces the infiltration rate of rain water into underground but fosters quick run-off downstream.
o Accelerated run-off in narrow, canalised river beds (even in source regions) results in earlier and higher flood peaks downstream.

Political Response in Austria
Change of government budgets (purchase of new military airplanes cut@ from 24 to 18)
14 Aug.: 650 mio. ? immediate aid + tax exemptions -> 1 bio. ? (by 2 Sept. 70 mio. ? paid out). Promise: 20% immediate help; support up to 50%, exceptionally up to 100%
17 Aug.: Big fundraising campaign of the ORF (state broadcasting company: big
TV show + radio stations) collected > 18 mio. ? (the government doubled all
private donations: -> 36 mio. ?).
Heavy public critique was raised on river development measures over the last decades and on a lack of comprehensive flood prevention.
Government response: 5 villages at the Upper Austrian Danube with each 80-130 houses should be removed from the floodplain (80% recompensation offered).
Legal cases were announced against some operators of hydro dams:
(Possible) wrong management of reservoirs and late information to local people increased their damages.
The Austrian minister of justice Bohmdorfer expects an avalanche of law suits against provincial governments from flood victims:
For all buildings located in the "red zone" (= high flood risk) but (illegally) permitted for construction by local authorities, the owners can claim 100% recompensation (we have here 10,000 heavily damaged buildings). The minister expects that the local authorities (e.g. mayors) will claim the provincial governments to pay, and he recommends that the province governments should rather pay immediately than to wait for the cases at the courts of justice.

Political Response in Germany
16 Aug.: First federal aid for communes (50 mio. ?)
19 Aug.: Change of the government budgets 2002 and 2003 for short-term aid
First government support (? 500-2,000 for damages larger than ? 5,000) paid a few days after the flood peak (in the first month, ? 425 mio. handed out);
Public (TV) fundraising campaigns started within days: altogether some ? 250 mio. of donations!
22 Aug.: Cabinet decides on a ? 10 bil. reconstruction programme (federation, laender and communes as well as EU structural funds): Aid for up to 50% of the damages.
For cultural monuments another ? 100 mil. are available.
Banks halt the repayment of credits and offer rescue packages for businesses.
12 Sept. Flood Victim Support Act decided in the Parliament to establish the Reconstruction Assistance Fund (? 7,1 billion). Financed by postponing the second phase of the German tax reform to 2004.
Heavy critique on the river development of the Elbe and Danube (here: 45 dams), political reaction:
15 Sept. Berlin: River Conference on Preventive Flood Protection
Agreement of 5 relevant ministers (transport, environment, agriculture, interior and economy) on a Five-Points Programme:
"There is so much construction along rivers that they have no room to flood without causing disaster. Every building of flood defences increases the flood risk for those further downstream. That is why a national effort must give rivers back their natural flood plains in uninhabited areas."
Minister of Transport Bodewig: "The rivers need more room. We'll have to rethink things."

The German Five - Points Programme
First objective: Give the rivers in undeveloped areas more room for natural flood plains, e.g.

By putting dykes back, by means of relief polders and with the reestablishment of river meadows.
All opportunities for natural floodwater containment in the influx area of sources and tributaries must be taken;
For all rivers, ensure a prompt, reliable flood warning and forecasting system. In future, no flood areas will be designated for new residential or commercial developments. Also, the requirements for hazardous commercial installations in flood areas will be reviewed.

Second, measures for preventative flood protection have to be harmonised and go beyond Land and state boundaries. Existing action plans are to be reviewed by 2003.
In 2004, Germany will be inviting delegates to an international conference in this field, in order to develop joint, internationally co-ordinated and integrated operation modes.
Third, transboundary development plans for preventative flood protection (solidarity of upstream users with the downstream regions) will be politically supported and co-financed (later also via EU funds).

Fourth, the expansion of rivers for shipping leads to a change in their capacity to drain. Therefore, all expansion plans have to be reviewed until early 2003: e.g.
The planned measures at the Elbe need an integrated global concept; until then the planned expansion work will cease.
The damming expansion on the Bavarian Danube is not being carried out.

Fifth, a new framework concept for civil defence and civil protection will be developed (risk scenarios and exceptional loss events; joint alert and alarm centre for large-scale hazardous situations; use of the Federation's satellite communications system - reserved for civil defence - for official flood warnings).

In 2004, the government will submit its initial report on the implementation of the measures associated with this 5-point programme.

Response at the EU Level
18 August in Berlin: A Flood Summit (EC President, chancellors & prime ministers of D, A, CZ, SK) agrees on establishing a new EU Flood Relief Fund, by re-allocating structural funds; further, loans become available from the European Investment Bank (EUR 400 mio. to the Czech Republic and EUR 600 mio. to Austria and Germany
October 22: The EU establishes the new EU Solidarity Fund:
1 billion ? per year available for EU members and candidate countries: Within 10 weeks of the occurrence of a natural disaster (damages amounting to at least 0.6 percent of the afflicted country's GDP).
In 2002, 1 bio. ? is to be paid out to Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic (? 129 mio.).

The Budapest Initiative
Intl. Conference 30 November - 1 December "Prevention of flood hazards by integrating socio-economic and environmental considerations"
Budapest Declaration: Joint Statement by the Ministers from Germany, Austria, Czechia, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Hungary and the European Commission:
Causes and implications of natural disasters have interrelated environmental, social and economic dimensions
Flood Management must better understand the climatological, hydrological, ecological and landscape context of floods. There is need for a new comprehensive approach towards an Integrated River Basin Management (based on EU-Water Framework Directive).
Need for action plans for sustainable flood protection with more concerted actions:
Integrated river basin management planning must include a holistic flood management strategy
Improve the security of human life and gain advantageous impacts of floods on biodiversity
Better monitoring, forecasting, intl. data exchange and insurance mechanisms
Raise public awareness and public participation in flood prevention and management decision-making
Assess financial requirements for flood defence structures and rehabilitation of natural ecosystems
EC decided on 22 November to develop a best practise document on flood protection and prevention. This will allow more decisions at the next policy-makers meeting in late 2003.

Future EU River Management (Living Rivers)

1. EU Directives on the Protection of Wild Birds (1979) and Fauna-Flora-Habitat (1992):
All areas which hosts the listed species or habitats of European importance have to be well protected as "Natura 2000" sites

1995: proposed national lists
June 1998: no more deterioration allowed
June 2004: EU network complete (EU 15 & 10?)


2. EU Water Framework Directive (in force since 22 December 2000):
Binding new legal standard for all EU Member and Accession states

Objective: Preventing further deterioration of aquatic ecosystems
Achieving "Good Status" (= ecological and chemical) within 15 years
River basin approach
Reference = natural status of typical rivers in each bioregion (e.g. 15 in Austria).

Not user-oriented but ecological protection based on bioindication:

Aquatic flora (algae) e.g. for nutrient pollution
Benthic invertebrates e.g. for organic pollution
Fish e.g. for hydrological and morphological interventions

Supported by hydromorphological elements (water flow dynamics, river continuity, river banks) and physico-chemical quality elements (temperature, oxygen, nutrients, pollutants).

Timetable:
2003 Implementation of WFD into national law
2004 Characterisation of river basins; intercalibration for transboundary basins;
impact assessment
2006 Monitoring network
2009 River basin management plans (incl. public participation)
2015 "Good Status" achieved.

Conclusions
The flood disasters have caused incredible and non-acceptable damages.
A change of former river management is fully agreed and will be developed with high priority:
The new European target for river management is the Good Quality Status
The prevention of floods is the most cost-effective measure and here, the non-technical (= natural) flood retention proves to be the cheapest way for a government (or a society).
New key words in Central Europe:
Integrated River Basin Management (combining socio-economic and environmental considerations)
Holistic flood management strategy to secure life and improve biodiversity.




| HOME | NCC |