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Humanity has always used rivers and streams for its own purposes, as drinking water, for recreation, for fishing, for irrigation, for wastewater disposal, to generate energy and for much more. These manifold uses of waterways and their floodplains, the water meadows, have also changed their appearance. They have been made functional, i.e. straightened, their banks fortified and water levels raised. Dikes, weirs and barrages have been built and waterways shortened. In many cities they were built over or fed into the sewer system. Others were turned into wastewater channels. The main priority was to discharge wastewater and rain down rivers as quickly as possible.
Mankind’s demands on our waterways have now changed. Rivers and streams should now be regarded as natural elements in the landscape, still intensively used by people, but also sustainably maintained and appropriately developed in a forward-thinking way, allowing plenty of space for the waterway’s own dynamic.
This means that measures to maintain and develop bodies of water can take a new direction, now and in the future. Their purpose is to restore an intact river and water meadow-ecosystem wherever possible, while taking into account flood protection, wastewater drainage and industrial as well as agricultural use. It is for example, no longer possible to return heavily populated water meadows to their original condition. Conditions can be optimised here too though, bringing the river closer to its natural state, as well as providing many plants and animals with a significantly improved habitat and mankind with the experience of more diverse and natural river landscapes.
The objective of ecological waterways development is the achieving of “good status” for bodies of water, a goal set for all of Europe by the EU’s Water Framework Directive. This involves first of all freeing rivers from wastewater, which in future will be channelled through closed conduits underground. Then, step-by-step, the rivers and their tributaries will be turned into more natural waterways.