The Danube River is a workhorse, and more. Across nearly 3,000 kilometers (1,777 miles) this river in Eastern Europe provides drinking water, power, navigation and transport for approximately 81 million people throughout 18 countries. Along this route it also supports a myriad of animal and plant species and provides services such as water purification, recreation and cultural and spiritual sustenance for these nations.
How could all these international and ecological interests possibly be addressed while maintaining the river in a healthy working state?
Work. Hard, dedicated work.
Along its entire course, the Danube is supported by teams of committed people whose interests defy borders, even sectors, in the oversight of the world’s most international river. From the headwaters in Germany to the amazing web of wetlands which make up its Romanian Delta, this river is cared for, examined, monitored, repaired and restored by a consortium of groups, including teams from government, academia, navigation, hydropower, NGOs, environmentalists, engineers, and multiple stakeholders who have the audacious belief that this river, instead of being torn apart for individual use or gain, can be respected and relied upon to provide the gifts our waterways can deliver, while maintaining its health and beauty for this and future generations.
The river is home to heron, mink, otter, pelicans, storks, sturgeon, carp, shore birds, and other animal and plant communities. By working to revert to a more unconstrained floodplain, such as the restoration efforts in the Danube Parks, the river is regaining its ability to supply groundwater and surface water purification, flood protection, ecological health and natural beauty. A unique alliance of support for these efforts comes directly from the navigation and hydropower interests in the basin. These sectors are actively seeking to balance environmental and economic interests along the Danube, including the promotion of renewable energies and minimalization of environmental impacts on fish migration and flow regimes, and ecologically-sensitive navigation and dredging.
The European Union (EU) takes this river seriously. Instead of individual countries being the ultimate arbitrator of this river, the EU provides funds for meeting healthy benchmarks, while enforcing punitive measures against anyone or anything which threatens the health of the river. Countries that are lagging behind in terms of data collection and best practices are supported by the EU and brought up to speed by other countries and organizations which help with training, monitoring and filling in the gaps. Currently EU mandates include the development of sustainable navigation, water quality and quantity standards aligned with the Water Framework Directive and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with attention to flood control and the emerging challenges of uncertain climate scenarios. The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) helps to organize and promote communication and support to these massive cross-boundary, multidisciplinary efforts. This organization is now in its ninth year of convening the Ministers of Water from Danube River Basin countries around these goals and has recently completed its third transnational ecological monitoring survey of the entire river to aid in the management and protection of the Danube corridor.
The hard work of all the individuals and organizations that support these efforts is to be lauded. Many people have spent their lifetimes in pursuits to improve the quality of this magnificent river and the lives and futures of others within the basin. It will take many more lifetimes to restore, revive and maintain the Danube in the condition which will be sustainable for the future. In the meantime, those who stand together to protect this river, serve as an inspiring example of cooperation, vision, and persistence for others seeking to protect and share water in their own basin.
“If we will have the wisdom to survive
To stand like slow-growing trees on a ruined place
Renewing, enriching it
If we will make our seasons welcome here
Asking not too much of earth or heaven
Then a long time after we are dead
The lives our lives prepare will live here
Their houses strongly placed upon the valley’s sides
Fields and gardens rich in the windows
The river will run clear, as we will never know it
And over it, bird song like a canopy…”
A Vision –Wendell Berry