Cleaner water and free passage for migratory fish in the river Rhine

New agreements between the Rhine basin countries will boost the riverbanks’ resilience against waterlogging and further improve the river water quality. To this end, Dutch Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen (Infrastructure and Water Management) reached a final accord yesterday during the Rhine Ministers Conference in Amsterdam. A significant result is that the final obstacles for migratory fish have also been removed. The Minister’s French counterpart gave her word that fish channels will be constructed at three locations in their catchment area, in line with the partial opening of the Dutch Haringvliet sluices. In the near future, this will enable fish such as salmon to swim freely from the North Sea to Switzerland.

At the initiative of Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen, the drought issue featured high on the conference agenda, whilst new agreements were made to combat river water pollution. In addition, over the next 20 years, all the Rhine countries will continue to invest in dykes and embankments, in order to further reduce the probability of flooding in the river area by another 15 per cent.

Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen: ‘High water has once again made the headlines in the past few weeks. Not only does this month mark the 25th anniversary of the evacuation of a quarter of a million residents in the areas around our major rivers; early this week, the water rose to such a level as to flood the Noordwaard polder downstream, one of the locations designated under the Room for the River programme to increase the Rhine discharge capacity. The key outcome of the conference is that a new agreement has been set down to tackle waterlogging. An equally important result is that the other Rhine countries will adopt a cross-border approach, similar to ours, to develop solutions to low water issues in the increasingly drier summers.’

Water quality and flood risk management

In order to reduce water pollution in the catchment area, during the conference new agreements were made to cut back the volumes of substances ending up in the water. One of the agreements entails a 30 per cent reduction in so-called micro pollutants, such as medicine residues, pesticides, and industrial substances. Furthermore, the participating countries have reviewed the past 20 years, during which the Rhine countries have invested EUR 14 billion in dykes and river projects, which have reduced the probability of flooding by 25 per cent.


In the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICBR), Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Italy, Liechtenstein, Wallonia, and the Netherlands collaborate and coordinate the use of the river. The collaboration was initiated 70 years ago. Every few years, the participating countries gather to set down the new agreements. The last Rhine Ministers Conference was held in Basel (Switzerland) in 2013.