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History – Balance of the Rhine Action Programme (1986 – 2000)

The „Rhine Action Programme“ introduced by the ICPR in 1987 as a comprehensive restoration programme was the precursor of “Rhine 2020“. A year before, the Rhine had been intoxicated by a chemical accident, leading to the death of fish and micro-organisms between Basel and Koblenz.

The term of the Rhine Action programme ended in 2000. The balance shows that, largely, it achieved or surpassed its objectives.

  1. Water quality has distinctively improved, as less polluted wastewater is discharged into the Rhine. Plainly speaking: between 1985 and 2000, the point source inputs of most of the pollutants to be disposed of sank by 70 to 100 per cent. The degree to which municipalities and industries were connected to wastewater treatment plants increased from 85 to 95 %. Nitrogen continues to pose a problem. Through diffuse pathways this substance sieves from agricultural soil into the tributaries of the Rhine and fertilizes the North Sea. Some pollutants, e.g. some heavy metals and pesticides have not yet achieved the ambitious ICPR-target values.
  2. Accidents with substances noxious for water have been considerably reduced, as plants along the Rhine are better prepared to meet accidents. They have implemented the ICPR recommendations for the prevention of accidents and security of industrial plants.
  3. The Rhine fauna has recovered. Apart from eel, fish from the Rhine are again edible. With its 63 species, the fauna of the former Rhine has almost completely returned to the river – apart from the sturgeon. Thanks to newly constructed fish passages along weirs, migratory fish such as salmon and sea trout main again migrate from the North Sea into the Upper Rhine and some tributaries in Alsace and the Black Forest where they spawn. However, so far, fish cannot reach Basel. The species diversity of the micro-fauna, e.g. snails, mussels and insects has increased, even though undemanding species and recently immigrated species often prevail.