LIFE IP IRIS – Integrated River Solutions in Austria

The EU-funded Austria-wide project LIFE IP IRIS Austria supports integrative planning approaches as a new way for the ecological remediation of our rivers while improving flood protection at the same time.

Integrative river basin management coordinates the objectives and programmes of measures of the National River Basin Management Plan (according to the EU Water Framework Directive) with those of the National Flood Risk Management Plan (according to the EU Floods Directive) and also takes into account other uses of rivers. For this purpose, the planning instrument “River Development and Risk Management Concept” – “Gewässerentwicklungs- und Risikomanagementkonzept”, in the following referred to as GE-RM – was developed.

This planning instrument will be extensively tested in seven Austrian river basins as part of the Integrated LIFE Project IRIS (Integrated River Solutions in Austria). By means of interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral planning processes, guiding principles and concepts of measures will be developed for river courses with a total length of almost 600 km. Also structural river restoration measures to improve the ecological status as well as flood protection will be implemented in the LIFE project.

New approaches in river basin planning

With the new planning instrument “River Development and Risk Management Concept – GE-RM”, Austria is breaking new ground in many areas. Instead of implementing various, sometimes-contradictory individual construction projects in rivers, the objectives and concepts of measures for river ecology and flood protection are jointly developed for the river basin. Where necessary, other relevant disciplines such as nature conservation, spatial planning, tourism, fisheries or the use of hydropower are integrated into the planning process. For the first time in Austria, planning also extends beyond the borders of federal states. With the finalised GE-RM concepts of measures, the objectives of the National Water Management Plan and the Flood Risk Management Plan will be systematically coordinated. In future, GE-RM planning processes will be implemented consistently throughout Austria, thus creating technically competent networks and implementation capacities.

Flussabschnitt von Traun

First Integrated LIFE Project in Austria

The Austrian Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism (BMNT) applied for financial support from the EU funding programme LIFE as early as 2017. At the end of 2018, the European Commission approved the project „LIFE IP IRIS AUSTRIA – Integrated River Solutions in Austria“. Thanks to the good preparation and the constructive cooperation of all project partners, the project was able to assert itself in competition with projects from other EU countries.

LIFE IP IRIS is the first Integrated LIFE project in Austria. A total of 16.5 million euros will be available over the next 9 years, 10 million of which will be provided by the EU. The project is managed by the Directorate General I – Environment and Water Management of the Austrian Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism. The project partners are the Water Engineering Administrations of the Austrian federal states Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol and Burgenland as well as viadonau (Austrian Waterway Company) and the Federal Environment Agency.

LIFE is an EU funding programme that exclusively supports environmental and nature conservation projects financially. Since the LIFE programme was launched in 1992, the European Commission has funded 110 projects in Austria. EUR 133 million of the total invested EUR 305 million came from the European Union. Integrated LIFE projects (“LIFE-IP projects”) were introduced into the LIFE-funding programme in 2014. They serve the direct implementation of EU environmental and climate plans and strategies.

Flusslauf der Leitha im Bereich Katzelsdorf

Goals of the IRIS project

IRIS pursues the following objectives for a period of 9 years:

Goal 1: Strategic planning for a coordinated implementation of the National River Basin Management Plan and Flood Risk Management Plan

GE-RM planning processes are carried out in seven IRIS pilot regions. The experience gained in the planning processes will be incorporated into the further development of the existing GE-RM guideline and into a nationwide strategy for future GE-RM implementation in Austria.

Goal 2: Development of coordinated action plans for the IRIS pilot regions

For each IRIS pilot region a cost-efficient and interdisciplinary coordinated concept of measures will be developed. The focus is on measures with added value for river ecology and flood protection. In many cases, local recreation and nature conservation also benefit from the action plans.

Goal 3: Planning and construction of selected morphological measures in the IRIS pilot regions

Once the concepts of measures are in place, integrative construction measures will be implemented in the IRIS pilot areas. The focus is on projects that contribute to both – the ecological objectives of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and to the improvement of flood protection. This can be measures such as widening of the riverbed in combination with the improvement of habitats. The concrete selection of measures takes place as part of the GE-RM planning processes.

Goal 4: New approaches for integrative monitoring

In addition to the usual monitoring of biological and abiotic quality elements, the IRIS project is also developing and testing methods that look into the socio-economic and socio-cultural effects of river restoration and ecosystem services.

Goal 5: Capacity Building

The GE-RM planning instrument will be applied throughout Austria in the future. Within the framework of the IRIS project, the necessary capacities will be developed at federal and provincial level. At regular networking meetings, the participating administrative organisations and sectors exchange information on various technical and organisational aspects of the GE-RM planning process. This creates a broad pool of experts for integrative river basin planning in Austria.

Goal 6: Public relations and awareness raising

The IRIS project aims to raise awareness that flood protection and river ecology do not have to contradict each other. The involvement of the public and interest groups in the planning process will increase the acceptance of the planning results and reduce possible conflicts during the implementation of measures in advance.

Project planning and structure

The IRIS project has a duration of 9 years and comprises 4 phases. The focus of the first phase, which will end in 2021, is the elaboration of the GE-RM concepts in the pilot regions. In project phases 2 (2022-2023) and 3 (2024-2025), the river engineering measures are planned in detail and implemented. In the final project phase 4 (2026-2027) the project results will be summarised and evaluated. Based on the experiences and findings from the IRIS project, the guidelines for the implementation of the planning instrument “River Development and Risk Management Concept” will be revised and recommendations for the future application of GE-RM planning in Austria will be derived.

Projektgebiet Enns-Salzburg