Reconciling the Interests of Hydropower and Environmental Protection in the Danube River Basin - page 02

The challenge of climate change has increased the interest in hydropower within the region. Increased use of energy from renewable sources, together with energy savings and increased energy efficiency, have been identified as having particular importance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to comply with international climate protection agreements. The development of further renewable energy in line with the implementation of the Renewable Energy Directive1 is also a significant factor promoting the development of hydropower generation in the countries of the Danube River Basin.

At the same time as securing renewable energy sources, Danube countries are committed to the implementation of legislation to protect water resources and complying with other environmental legislation. Specifically the Water Framework Directive2 (WFD) plays a leading role as the key tool for water policy in the Danube River Basin complimenting the commitments the countries made under the Danube River Protection Convention. The Directive (applicable for all EU member states but agreed to be used by all Danube countries) specifies water protection targets and goals and attempts to ensure that these are in balance with economic interests.

The EU Water Framework Directive does not prohibit the construction of new hydropower facilities but when they are built or planned they need to address water quality concerns. Currently a considerable number of new hydropower projects throughout the Danube River Basin are at different stages of planning and preparation, and confronting the dual challenges of meeting renewable energy and environmental protection goals is necessary. These projects can, if not properly planned or are located in sensitive areas, provoke pressures and deterioration of the water status. At the same time, however, they can provide benefits in terms of socio-economic aspects and in addressing the challenges of climate change.

The Assessment Report on Hydropower Generation in the Danube Basin concluded that by 2020 other renewable energy sources "are expected to develop more dynamically than hydropower ... in most countries, hydropower will remain a relatively significant contributor of renewable energy."

Clearly, there are major differences in the size of hydropower facilities throughout the region. Some countries rely on (or have a large number of small hydropower facilities) while in other countries there is a reliance on a fewer larger facilities. The reliance on large versus small hydropower plants is an important issue related to the impact of these facilities on water. In Germany for example there are thousands of smaller hydropower facilities. In many other countries the majority of the production is from large facilities (>10 MW). While there is a common perception that small hydropower facilities have a small impact on the environment this may not necessarily be the case. One small hydropower plant on a river may disrupt and disturb fish migration to relatively lengthy upstream areas. Larger plants are often more heavily scrutinized for environmental impacts and mitigation measures (fish passes) are built in from the beginning.

Against the background of existing hydropower, which is substantial and in many instances needs to be retrofitted to improve water quality, there is considerable pressure in the Danube region for expanding the use of this energy form. In order to ensure that the process of development of additional hydropower takes place in an organized and thoughtful way with consideration of environmental implications, the ICPDR initiated the process of developing guiding principles.


1 Directive 2009/28/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources and amending and subsequently repealing Directives 2001/77/EC and 2003/30/EC.

2 Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy.