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No. 151/10 | Berlin, 08.10.2010

Ursula Heinen-Esser: Cooperation in the Elbe river basin a success story

20th anniversary of the International Commission for the Protection of the Elbe River

Ursula Heinen-Esser, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Environment Ministry, acknowledged the protection of the Elbe river as an outstanding example of international cooperation. "The International Commission for the Protection of the Elbe River is a success story. It contributed immensely to improving the water quality not only of the Elbe itself, but of the entire river basin," Ms Heinen-Esser said at a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Commission in Dresden (Saxony).

The International Commission for the Protection of the Elbe River Agreement was signed in Magdeburg on 8 October 1990. It was the first agreement under international law signed by Germany after its reunification. "The Elbe river basin is an ecosystem that is used in many different ways, as are all large rivers. Harmonising protection and use poses a great challenge. This is also true at international level – even more so as the Elbe was one of Europe's most heavily polluted rivers during the late 80s", Ms Heinen-Esser continued.

By now, water quality has drastically improved; around 250 large sewage plants in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria contribute to this with their high standards for treating wastewater. Owing to the raised water quality, the Elbe has become a habitat for animals and plants again. The salmon, for example, returned to Elbe tributaries for spawning in 1998, "We also want the Elbe to become a habitat of the sturgeon again, which used to be a native species. We have drawn up an action plan to this end which was published recently", Ms Heinen-Esser said.

Transboundary cooperation also made significant progress regarding flood protection. "Advance flood warning time for Dresden, for example, could be extended from 36 to 60 hours . I am convinced that the transboundary cooperation of many years in the Elbe river basin will also pay off with regard to the implementation of the Flood Risk Management Directive", Ms Heinen-Esser underlined.

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