River bassins

written on 21/12/2020
by Jutta Thielen-del Pozo

Did you know...

… that Germany manages 5 transnational river basins bordering with Switzerland, France, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, and the Czech Republic?

The four major river basins shared with other countries are the Danube, Rhine, Elbe, Oder and to some degree also the Ems which borders with the Netherlands.

Of these, the Rhine has the largest catchment share with 102159 km2 of the overall 198735 km2.

River basins are important ecosystems and vital for water management, navigation, recreation, energy production and biodiversity.

Therefore, trans-national river basins require collaboration between the different countries to ensure that the water management policies are coherent and measures taken in upstream countries do not have negative effects downstream. 

This is ensured in either international or bi-lateral river commissions. 

Germany is member of the international river commissions for the protection of the rivers Rhine, Danube, Elbe, and Oder, as well as of the Mosel/Saar Commission and of the Meuse/Maas commission, because of the Rhine-Marne canal links the Meuse or Maas with the Rhine.  

Furthermore, an international commission for the protection of Lake Constance also exists as well as bi-lateral commissions between Germany and the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria.

The need for collaborating across borders was recognised early on - this year, in July 2020, the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR) celebrated its 70th birthday.

It can look back at a successful programme of flood protection and put forward an ambitious programme for holistic environmental protection and nature conservation.

Surprisingly, the river Rhine is also the only river in Europe with its own coherent flood forecasting system for all shared countries. 

The European Commission acknowledged this as a drawback following the devastating Elbe and Danube floods in 2002, and launched the development of a European Flood Awareness System (EFAS).

EFAS complements national and regional flood forecasting systems and is made accessible to all operational flood forecasting centres in Europe as well as the European Civil Protection Mechanism. 

Initially developed at the Joint Research Centre, the EFAS is now running operationally as part of Europe’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service and enhances preparedness for flood events in Europe.