The Rhine is more intensively used than any other European river.
Water bodies in the Rhine watershed are used for many purposes. These are partly concurrent, they almost always modify water bodies and impact on water quality.
Uses and protection of the Rhine and its tributaries must be brought into an acceptable balance in order not to call the uses and activities of future generations into question. This is particularly urgent, since, with climate change, existing problems, such as in the field of flood prevention, are likely to increase.
During the past 150 years, almost the entire Rhine and its tributaries were impounded or straightened in order to serve navigation, hydro power use, flood protection and land reclamation. Due to point source and diffuse inputs of nutrients and pollutants, other uses are indirectly harmful to the Rhine and its floodplain. On the long term, persistent substances may accumulate in sediments and organisms. Agriculture for example impacts on groundwater, since fertilizers and plant protection agents applied in excess are washed out into the groundwater. Other pollutions are airborne and are above all due to exhaust from cars, power plants and industry, even from regions outside the Rhine watershed. Other uses with a partially negative impact include the production of industrial water, thermal pollution caused by using water for cooling purposes, leisure activities and mining.