A River Basin Management Plan for the Danube River


Philip Weller and Igor Liska
International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, Vienna International Centre, D0412,
Wagramer Strasse 5, A-1220 Vienna, Austria, e-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


In 2000, the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) fundamentally changed the basis for water management in Europe. One of the central elements of the new legislation is the requirement to manage  waters in hydrologic river basins, formalised in River Basin Management Plans. In the case of the Danube River Basin, such a plan was developed within the framework of the International Commission for  the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) until 2009.

In this article, we give an overview on the underlying WFD and highlight the most important aspects of the Danube River Basin Management Plan.  The Plan focuses on four main transboundary problems, called Significant Water Management Issues: pollution by organic substances, pollution by nutrients, pollution by hazardous substances and  hydromorphological alterations, or changes to the natural character and structure of the water body.

We provide an overview on relevant legislation beyond the WFD, the political backing that the ICPDR  relies on and on supplementary projects dealing with fish migration, the Joint Danube Survey or Urban Waste Water Treatment. Finally, we conclude this article with a prospect on increased intersectoral  endeavours that will set the stage for the next River Basin Management Plan, which is due in 2015.

Keywords: Danube River Basin; ICPDR; River Basin Management Plan; Water Framework Directive


The basis for water management was dramatically altered in Europe following the adoption of the EU Water Framework Directive in December 2000. This new legislation created a new legal basis for managing waters across Europe (the EU Europe) and brought with it a number of new and innovative arrangements for evaluating and managing waters. One of the central elements of the new legislation is the requirement to manage waters in hydrologic river basins. Managing waters in river basins has an inherent logic but is nonetheless not so easily put into practice in the numerous river basins of Europe and worldwide which are transboundary.

The International Commission for the Danube River (ICPDR), a commission formed on the basis of the Danube River Protection Convention signed in 1994, has nonetheless used the EU Water Framework Directive as a basis for cooperative management of waters in the basin –  a basin that is the most international river basin in the world. The fourteen main countries of the Danube (eight of which are EU countries) have cooperated together in the frame of the ICPDR to produce the Danube River Basin Management Plan – a river basin plan called for as a major product of the Water Framework Directive.  The plan was completed in December 2009 and the published results are recognized as a leading example of cooperative efforts of countries to manage water resources (ICPDR,  2009).

The Water Framework Directive

EU water policy requires a transparent, effective and coherent legislative framework. The EU strived to provide common principles and the overall framework for action through the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD), which should provide for such a framework and coordinate and integrate, and in a longer perspective, further develop the overall principles and structures for protection and sustainable use of water in the EU in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity (EC, 2000).
The Water Framework Directive brought major changes in water management practices. In brief, the EU WFD:
  • sets uniform standards in water policy throughout the European Union and integrates different policy areas involving water issues;
  • introduces the river basin approach for the development of integrated and coordinated river basin management plans for all European river systems;
  • includes public participation in the development of river basin management plans encouraging active involvement of interested parties including stakeholders, non-governmental organisations and citizens;
  • stipulates a defined time-frame for the achievement of the good status of surface water and groundwater;
  • requests a comprehensive ecological assessment and classification on the basis of the composition and abundance of the aquatic fauna and flora taking into account the type-specific reference conditions of the water body;
  • includes the definition of the environmental objectives for heavily modified water bodies, and introduces the economic analysis of water uses in order to estimate the most cost-effective (combination of) measures in respect to water uses.