Rhine river basin

The Rhine, on its way to recovery

The Rhine results from the confluence of two rivers which originate in Switzerland : the Upper Rhine and the Lower Rhine which join up again before entering the plain after Coire. It then crosses Lake Constance and continues its tumultuous course to Basle, where it takes a north easterly direction flowing through the plain of Alsace and the Palatinate. It passes through Strasbourg and Mainz and then the schistous massif of the Rhineland at Cologne. In Holland it divides into the Waal and the Leck and reaches the North Sea after a course of 1.320 kms. It is fed by affluents such as the Main, the Neckar and the Moselle…
Its geographic location marks a point of transition between the rivers of Eastern Europe and Western Europe. Here we find species of fish common to both regions, for example the Aspe and the Vimba Bream at the most westerly point of their distribution.

The river has undergone many modifications since 1840. In the past the river was considered as wild and its waters flowed in a bed 2 to 6 kms in width. It took more than a century to make the Rhine a navigable river, to canalise it, to equip it with power stations in the Alsace plain and for it to become the main source of water supply in the lower courses.
It is also a corridor for chemical industries and industry in general, creating accidental and permanent pollution. The worst period was between 1955 and 1980, but since this period the situation has improved considerably.

Today our goal is to restore the river to its natural state, but of course this aim cannot be fully achieved. There are many more people living in the valley than before (50 million) and there is also the problem of flooding. 1993 et 1995 were bad years but the dikes in Holland did not break.
The varying urban and industrial expansion along the river together with the agricultural development have made it impossible for the river to spread out in the valley. 85% of the flood plains have been suppressed since the beginning of the development and the risk of flooding has increased especially downstream.

From 1950 onwards the people living near the river have met to assess the situation of the Rhine. In 1998 the Conference on the Rhine adopted a 20 year plan (Rhine 2020) worth 12 billion euros to counter flooding.
It has to be said that it is impossible to avoid flooding resulting from natural causes and the dikes can never be absolutely foolproof. The only solution is to make it possible for floodwater to spread out. To achieve this aim the remaining flood plains must be maintained and improved in order to retain upstream as much water as possible. This concerns 1.000² kms, 100 artificial channels and 11.000 kms of banks will have to be restored. At the same time arms will be defined for the ecological revival of the river, the valley and its basin.
In this way 90% purification of the water is targeted ; 9 international stations and 20 national stations will continuously test the quality of the water in the river and its affluents. Navigation remains a permanent danger.

The return of the salmon to the Rhine is a marker of the progress in the recovery of the river.
The success of the Rhine 2020 operation will prove that man by his genius is capable of restoring the environment he has so seriously damaged. Moreover international cooperation on the Rhine project confirms that water knows no boundaries.
More informations : http://www.iksr.org/

Source : Sea River

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