"I sincerely would like to thank the International RiverFoundation for an award that reinforces our commitment to continue working in the restoration of the Segura River. The European Riverprize also encourages us to join the IRF's admirable international task of river recovery and offer our experience with the hope of helping others"
- Miguel-Angel Rodenas, President, Segura RIver Basin Authority
The Segura River of Spain has been named the winner of the 2016 European Riverprize.
Mr Miguel-Angel Rodenas, President of the Segura River Basin Authority, accepted the award at a gala dinner held at Vienna City Hall on Thursday 3 March, recognising the river’s extraordinary return to health following extensive restoration efforts over the past thirty years.
The Segura River Project has successfully restored the health of the river, with advanced wastewater schemes now supplying reclaimed water to the agriculture industry which rapidly boomed after Spain became a member of the European Union. This once polluted and water-stressed river in Europe’s driest basin has been transformed from an exposed sewer to a healthy, vibrant river, home to otter, migratory birds, and other flora and fauna, and the reuse of irrigation water has allowed increased agricultural, leisure and recreational activities.
Mr Bart Fokkens, Chair of the IRF European Riverprize judging panel and Chair of the European Centre for River Restoration, congratulated those who contributed to reviving the Segura River and praised their holistic approach.
“The Segura river management is a great example of an integrated approach with environmental, social and economic restoration activities. The established management framework includes a solid science foundation and shared governance, while the catchment management planning process was ahead of the European legislation requirement. These demonstrated innovations created almost a miracle under the scorching sun of Spain!”
Until the twentieth century, the Aragon river, with its tributary Arga, was a meandering river that generated many complex oxbow lakes. However, flood risk in the basin led to the introduction of multiple defensive structures and intensive river dredging in an attempt to mitigate flood effects. Unfortunately, these activities caused a significant reduction in natural habitats along the river and, consequently, biodiversity plummeted.
Together with the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Environment and the European Commission, the Regional Government of Navarra—through several LIFE projects and community partners—has spent more than a decade working to reverse these impacts and restore habitat for local flora and fauna. The project has been accompanied by a process of social participation in a territory where the high presence of flood risk led to popular support for defence mechanisms.
Between February and December 2014, on-ground works were undertaken over 32 hectares and 2.5 kilometres of river. 985 metres of riprap were eliminated, 1,342 metres of dikes were removed, 200,000 cubic meters of gravel and silt were reintroduced to the river bed, the original shape of the river was reformed, and wetlands were reconstructed. Today, The Aragon River is home to a typical mediterranean river forest as well as species like otter, European turtle, night heron, and the European mink, considered one of the planet's most threatened mammals.
In 1986, Spain became a member of the European Union. This milestone marked an increase in the production of agriculture and canned food and, consequently, a rise in wastewater discharges and lack of water. As a result, the already water-stressed Segura River in Europe’s driest basin became an exposed sewer.
The Segura River Project was developed by the Murcia Government’s Regional Water Department, in partnership with the Segura River Authority and town councils in the region, to restore the health of the Segura River and to supply reclaimed water to the booming agriculture industry.
Between 2001 and 2010, 100 water treatment plants and 350 kilometres of wastewater collection systems were built. In addition, a wastewater reclamation levy was established to finance the operation, maintenance and monitoring of these systems, applying the principle “the polluter pays”.
A major breakthrough was achieved in 2003 when the quality of the Segura’s water started improving. Since 2010, pollution has been unnoticeable, leading to the recovery of fauna and flora including increased otter population in parts of the river they had once abandoned. Birds now rest at two recovered wetland areas recognised by the Ramsar Convention, during their migration between Europe and Africa. In addition, around 110 million m3 of reclaimed water is reused annually for agriculture in the region.
Historically, the River Trent was heavily engineered into a single, straight and deep watercourse, leaving a ‘fossilised’ river bereft of natural features and lacking in quality habitat. Staffordshire Wildlife Trust implemented the Central Rivers Initiative—a multi-partner program with local stakeholders including councils, businesses, universities, consultancies and NGOs—to restore functional habitats along the River Trent, with a recent focus on a 6km stretch of the river through the Catton Estate and Croxall Lakes.
Works included increasing the channel width to allow shallows to form, re-grading banks, lowering the floodplain, adding gravels, re-connecting backwaters, introducing large woody debris, forming islands using living willow root wads, and wider woodland planting . It also included a unique attempt to re-anastomose (“re-connect”) the watercourse through Croxall Lakes.
These exhaustive works have resulted in a major increase in in-channel and floodplain habitat diversity and availability, and an increase in species within these habitats. By 2050, the Trust envisions the Trent River and its surrounds becoming one of Britain’s greatest wetlands once again, providing an artery for wildlife and flowing from source to sea in an attractive, multi-functional, inspiring and valued landscape.
The European Riverprize celebrates successful approaches that have overcome the challenges to river restoration, ecosystem health, water quality and climate change within the social and political context of the European continent.
Applications are assessed based on a documented river management framework, evidence of social and economic gains, an integrated approach to river management, long-term vision and demonstrated, outstanding achievements in river ecology. The 2015 European winner will automatically qualify for the next round of the prestigious Thiess International Riverprize.
The IRF is forming a select group of partners to support and develop the European Riverprize in addition to associated activities.
Businesses, Governments, Foundations and other interested parties willing to support the European Riverprize are being sought after to:
We are also seeking partners and participants in:
To learn more, please email email@example.com.
The International RiverFoundation sincerely thanks our past and present judges for contributing their time and expertise!
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