Hungary: Ecological Restoration and Water System Development in the Protected Site and Floodplain Areas of Szigetköz (#481)

The largest inner delta area with an almost natural status left in the entire Upper Danube Valley rests in the Szigetköz Region, Hungary. The Danube’s natural landscape in this area was characterized by continuously changing dead branches and side arms, beds changing their location, deteriorating and building islands and alluvial cones. As a result, the ecological environment and human settlements of the area were consistently destabilized. In 2011, the North-Transdanubian Water Directorate (EDUVIZIG) started a water infrastructure project entitled the “Ecological development of water supply system in the protected site and floodplain areas of Szigetköz”. This project shares valuable experience on how to restore the natural ecosystem while securing provision of drinking water and irrigation and enhancing flood protection mechanisms.

Description 

 Entering into the Pannonian Plain the inclination of the Danube decreases, the flow gets slower and loses energy. The river is thus unable to carry on its alluvium and makes deposits.  Water levels and flow intensity varied heavily throughout the year, to the extent where, some normally dried out river branches and their close-by villages were punctually inundated. Against this animated scene, riverbank vegetation had little success in trying to tie and stabilize these islands and river branches. This continuous change in the river environment has put considerable stress on the aquatic life and the water related fauna of the Szigetköz Region. Likewise, these natural processes have led to unfavorable conditions for the development of human activities such as fishing and agriculture.

Actions Taken

The North-Transdanubian Water Directorate (EDUVIZIG) has received 6.255 Million HUF (roughly 2 M EUR) in the framework of the New Széchenyi Plan (co-funded by the European Union) for the project entitled the “Ecological development of water supply system in the protected site and floodplain areas of Szigetköz”. The project, which started in 2011 and was complemented by middle of 2015, included both the planning process and the actual implementation, construction work. Public participation and stakeholder involvement was emphasized at every stage of the project.

The main target of this initiative was to halt the processes leading to unfavourable ecological conditions, and ensure better environment for wildlife and people. The various interventions and actions of the project aimed at providing a solution to the followings: landscape rehabilitation, restoring ecological conditions for natural values, providing more water for agriculture purposes through irrigation, and improving conditions for fishing.

Once the environmental and social assessments were completed, a plan with more than 35 concrete measures was developed. These were established according to environmental impact assessment legislation and participatory planning models. Actions taken included sediment dredging and building new side-arm closures for rural water management in the floodplains and constructing fish ladders and hydraulic structures such as gates in the protected site. The protected site was additionally supported with the reconstruction of a multi-purpose channel network through building various water level control facilities and water management structures. This system allowed the precious water supply of branches and wet meadows. The creation of such multi-purpose channel system also contributed to the development of the so-called green and blue infrastructure of the region, interlinking the side branch water system with the Moson-Danube.

Lessons learnt

  • The ecological restoration followed IWRM principles, as the project resulted in multi-purpose water functions: restoring the natural ecosystem, securing provision of drinking water and irrigation, and the enhancement of flood protection.
  • The regular and frequent personal contact between project partners and with local stakeholders are indispensable part of successful ecological restoration.
  • The project management team must be present in the project site and available for spontaneous meetings with the stakeholders and local communities. Trust can only be built if the local people feel the project team as part of them.
  • The involvement of project partners in the various actions taken in the project must be based on the competencies. Efforts should still be made as to include actors with limited competencies.   
  • The project implementation requires certain level of flexibility as environmental and legislative circumstances might change during the project. However, any changes in the project actions during the implementation must be based on a consensus between the partners and must be consulted in advance with the donor.
  • The project also fitted into the River Basin Management Planning process as required by the EU Water Framework Directive. Other legislative components such as the so-called nature directives (Habitat and Birds Directives) were taken into account as well.

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