Environmental organisations decry major European navigation project

The Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal intends to connect the Black, Baltic and North seas for navigation

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 17 March 2020
Porta Bohemica near Děčín - the site of a planned barrage near the Czech-German border. Photo: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec
Porta Bohemica near Děčín - the site of a planned barrage near the Czech-German border. Photo: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec Porta Bohemica near Děčín - the site of a planned barrage near the Czech-German border. Photo: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec

Environmental organisations from across central and eastern Europe have criticised a major project intending to link three rivers and provide seamless navigation between three of Europe’s peripheral seas, according to a statement.

The Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal intends to connect the Danube, Oder and Elbe rivers and thus provide another navigable link from the Black Sea to the North and Baltic Seas.

However, environmental organisations from Germany, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Austria, wrote a joint letter to the European Union’s Commissioners for Environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius, and for Transport, Adina Vălean on March 17, 2020, calling for the project to be halted.

In their letter, the bodies said the project, if constructed, would destroy the region’s river landscapes, in violation of EU environmental laws.

“This major project, costing at least 23 billion euros, fundamentally violates EU environmental and nature conservation directives and must not be allowed to become a reality,” the letter noted.

They called on the European Commission to ensure that the project be excluded from EU funding, and not be included as part of the Trans-European Transport Network.

Several hundred kilometres of artificial waterways would have to be built for the canal, according to the statement. In order to hoist freight ships over a low mountain range and overcome 250 metres in altitude, 70 locks would need to be constructed. Even tunnels are being considered, it added.

“The acceleration of flood waves resulting from the construction of numerous locks, and canalised and deepened riverbeds is expected to diminish flood protection and increase flood risks further,” the statement read.

The canal would also result in a great loss of biodiversity, it added. The areas where the canal is be built, offer a safe haven to Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats, for birds as well as other animal and plant species.

“Rare habitats for endangered animal and plant species would disappear, and many thousands of hectares of valuable arable land would also be destroyed,” it said.

Moreover, the three rivers that are earmarked for the project, are not not navigable in many section for much of the year.

“Due to the extremely low water level of the Elbe, its construction would not benefit freight shipping, but rare river habitats such as sandy banks and softwood floodplains would be destroyed,” Olaf Bandt, Chairman of BUND - Friends of the Earth Germany, was quoted as saying.

The letter written by the organisations noted that the Main-Danube Canal already provided a navigable connection between the Black Sea and the North Sea. “Also, the Baltic-Adriatic and the Orient-East Med TEN-T Railway corridors work efficiently. Investments should rather be made in the already existing and functioning infrastructure than in new waterways,” it said.

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