NGO Protest: Sava River at Risk

Joint press release by EuroNatur, Riverwatch and the Croatian Society for Birds and Nature Protection


International Sava Commission wants to facilitate hydro dams and river regulation


The Sava downstream of Zagreb, one of Europe´s finest rivers. According to the Sava Commission this stretch is “heavily modified” Photo: Goran ŠafarekZagreb, Vienna, Radolfzell, December 1, 2014 In an open letter, fifteen environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) protest against the intention of the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC) to adopt a management plan for the Sava River basin. The Commission aims to adopt this plan by means of a declaration in their upcoming meeting of the parties in Zagreb on December 2nd. “This management plan is based on misleading and false data; it is violating EU legislation and risking the future of the Sava – one of the most valuable river ecosystems in Europe. Therefore we urge Mitja Bricelj, Chair of the Commission, to withhold from signing the declaration and to revise the management plan”, says Tibor Mikuska from the Croatian Society for Bird and Nature Protection and coordinator of the Blue Heart campaign at the Sava River.

With a total length of 944 kilometres, the Sava is the longest river on the Balkans and also one of the ecologically most valuable. Its upper reach still hosts the vanishing Huchen (Danube Salmon) and extensive alluvial forests have been preserved downstream of Zagreb to this day, providing habitat to important breeding populations of the Black Stork, the Lesser-spotted and White-tailed Eagle. However, this natural treasure is at risk. Numerous hydropower plants and further regulations of the middle and lower reach are projected. Now, the pressure is coming from the ISRBC as well. The Commission had a management plan prepared, which shall serve as basis for future planning. The development of this plan was financially supported by the EU. In theory, this management plan should reflect the ecological state of the river, but reality is far from that.

“When inspecting the management plan, we realised that it is based on wrong data and evaluations”, says Romy Durst from EuroNatur. Even though the Sava and most of the tributaries are in an outstanding ecological condition, the ISRBC classifies almost the entire river and its major tributaries as “heavily modified” – the lowest class for rivers according to EU Water Framework Directive.  

In fact, the opposite is the case. Recent scientific studies by Riverwatch and EuroNatur as well as by WWF prove what is evident in nature: the Sava and its tributaries are mostly in a very good ecological and hydro-morphological condition. However, these studies were not recognized by the Sava Commission. “This management plan does not reflect the actual ecological status of the rivers but the intention of the ISRBC to facilitate future construction of hydro-dams and further regulations of the river”, says Ulrich Eichelmann from Riverwatch, a society for the protection of rivers. About 19 dam projects along the Sava and dozens more on its tributaries are in the pipeline. (

This management practice contradicts the EU water Framework Directive as well as the Natura 2000 guidelines. Therefore, the NGOs ask the European Commission (DG Environment) to stop funding any projects that are based on the current incomplete and misleading draft management plan. “We more than ever need to look out for this unique river – the pressure on this ecosystem is increasing, even on part of the Sava Commission”, concludes Ulrich Eichelmann.


Further information

Tibor Mikuska                              +385 95 909 87 53

Ulrich Eichelmann                +43 6766621512

Romy Durst                                    +49 7732 92 72 0