Restoration and renaturation of the Oder must now have top priority
Berlin, 18 August 2022 – The environmental disaster in the Oder River has led to a mass mortality of fish and other animals in the river. So far, almost 140 tonnes of fish carcasses have been removed from the near-natural river in the heart of Central Europe. According to the conviction of the environmental and nature conservation organisations united in the “Action Alliance Living Oder”, the full extent of the catastrophe can be assessed in a few weeks at the earliest. However, a comparison can already be made with the Sandoz disaster which happened on the Rhine in 1986. Back then, after a fire had occurred in one of the chemical company’s storehouses, contaminated firefighting water caused mass fish killings and serious damage to the ecosystem due to toxic chemicals. “We demand from politicians and administrators on both sides of the Oder that the causes of this critical incident may be completely clarified, that any damaging influences such as the currently ongoing Oder expansion will be stopped immediately and that a comprehensive remediation concept for the Oder will be drawn up,” said DNR managing director Florian Schöne on behalf of the ten organisations participating in the alliance. Plans on both sides of the Oder to turn the river into a highway for vessels must be shelved.
Yesterday, the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) published its interim results of the causal research. The researchers see indications that the mass death of fish and mussels may have been caused by an algal bloom with toxic effects. At the same time, the experts make it very clear that this is not a natural phenomenon, but a man-made problem. There are currently reports in the Polish media of large saline discharges in the area of the industrial city of Głogów in the period from 29 July to 10 August 2022. In addition, anglers reported a die-off of fish above Wrocław as early as July. Local authorities state that the official laboratory results of the state authorities in Poland can no longer be found.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki promised last week to restore the Oder River to its original state. “If Morawiecki is serious about his statements, all harmful environmental impacts must be stopped immediately – this includes especially the current and planned expansion works in the river. A recovery of the aquatic flora and fauna through renaturation of the river must be given top priority, now” Schöne continues. From the alliance’s view, this requires the development of an action plan for the restoration of the Oder, accompanied by comprehensive funding. The example of the Sandoz disaster on the Rhine River shows that a recovery of the Oder is possible”, Schöne explained, “but the assessment and examination of the environmental disaster must be ensured by an independent group of experts”. Furthermore, on the Oder River the functionality of monitoring systems must be ascertained. The same is true for alarm systems of adjoining countries. This guarantees a quicker response in the future. The public has to be informed much earlier and in several languages about pollution of the Oder.
The Oder is one of the last large, near-natural rivers in Europe. For about 500 kilometres, the Oder flows into the Baltic Sea without major obstacles, surrounded by intact and species-rich floodplains. The Polish and German governments have been carrying out planning on the Oder for years, allegedly to improve flood protection. However, an obtained expert opinion, commissioned by the Oder Alliance, revealed that these planned courses of action would actually increase the flood risk. And what’s more: the Polish inland navigation strategy even envisages an expansion to an international waterway. But approved plans violate EU environmental law already, destroying protected areas and their natural landscapes including endanger species and ecosystems.
Ten German nature conservation and environmental organisations joined forces a few years ago in the “Action Alliance Living Oder” (Aktionsbündnis lebendige Oder) and cooperate with Polish and Czech nature conservation associations in the coalition “Time for the Oder” (Zeit für die Oder) since. The common goal is to preserve the naturality of the Oder and to promote sustainable use of river landscape across borders.
Members of the “Aktionsbündnis lebendige Oder”
Bund für Umwelt- und Naturschutz (BUND), WWF Deutschland, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), Deutscher Naturschutzring (DNR), Rewilding Oder Delta (ROD), Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), EuroNatur, Heinz Sielmann Stiftung, Michael Succow Stiftung, Verein der Freunde des Deutsch-Polnischen Europa-Nationalparks Unteres Odertal
- • Joint website of the environmental associations in the Oder Alliance: www.saveoder.org
- Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) (2022): “Environmental disaster on the Oder: IGB researchers track potentially toxic algae”, press release of 17.08.2022, online: https://www.igb-berlin.de/en/news/environmental-disaster-oder-igb-researchers-track-potentially-toxic-algae
- World Bank Odra-Vistula Flood Management Project for Poland, online: https://projects.worldbank.org/en/projects-operations/project-detail/P147460?lang=en
- Directorate General for Waterways and Shipping (2021): „Stromregelungskonzeption für die Grenzoder: Strategische Umweltprüfung – Festlegung des Untersuchungsrahmens”, Pressemitteilung vom 02.02.2021, online: https://www.gdws.wsv.bund.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/DE/20210202_Stromregelungskonzeption_Grenzoder_PM.html?nn=1215048
- RiffReporter: „Senckenberg-Chef: Massive Renaturierung ist der Schlüssel für eine Erholung der Oder”, [“Senckenberg boss: Massive renaturation is key to Oder recovery”] Interview by Thomas Krumenacker with Klement Tockner, online: 16.08.2022, https://www.riffreporter.de/de/umwelt/fischsterben-oder-renaturierung-tockner
- Gazeta Wyborcza: Słona woda trafiła do Odry w Głogowie z Zakładu Hydrotechnicznego KGHM: “Wody Polskie nie poprosiły o wstrzymanie zrzutu”, [Salty water from KGHM’s hydrotechnical plant entered the Odra river near Głogów: “Wody Polskie did not ask to stop the discharge”], 17.08.2022, online: https://wroclaw.wyborcza.pl/wroclaw/7,35771,28801874,slona-woda-trafila-do-odry-w-glogowie-z-zakladu-hydrotechnicznego.html