Over centuries, the Rhine has experienced numerous human interventions, such as river straightening and the construction of dykes and barrages, which resulted in morphological changes. Dense population in the river catchment, shipping and flood protection, water supply for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses, and its popularity as a recreational area result in intense use of the Rhine River, creating multiple pressures on the ecosystem. These conditions make the Rhine an ideal case to study the functioning of an extremely modified river and to develop management solutions for its sustainable use.
- Coordination: Federal Waterways Engineering and Research Institute, Karlsruhe
- Partner: Federal Institute of Hydrology, Koblenz
- River reach: the free-flowing part of the German Rhine from its last barrage at Iffezheim to the German-Dutch border
Along the Rhine, the fundamental challenge is to reach an agreement between its role as a waterway, the manifold other human uses and environmental demands to improve its ecological condition.
- Maintain a dynamic balance of the river bed: Various human uses and engineering measures resulted in insufficient sediment supply in large parts of the Rhine. It requires adapted management to reach and maintain a dynamic equilibrium of the sediment budget and the river bed.
- Ensure water availability: The ecological demand for a dynamic exchange of water between the river and its floodplains is in conflict with the demand for reliable water depths for shipping and sufficient water quantities for further uses. An agreement between these demands needs to be scientifically justified and accepted by the society. Furthermore, climate change and the associated projected increase of extreme events are a challenge for reliable and user-oriented water availability in the Rhine.
- Improve biodiversity: After the extensive pollution of the Rhine until the early 1970s, biodiversity has recovered to some extent, but there is still a need for action. Water and sediment pollution e.g. with microplastics and pharmaceuticals is an increasing problem. Therefore, measures to improve habitat diversity and water quality of the Rhine are urgently needed. Additionally, measures need to be taken to reduce the establishment of invasive species.