In the recent months, the return of the idea of a water corridor connecting the Danube, Odra and Elbe rivers through the area of the Czech Republic has awaken a broad interest in the Czech public. The project has been recently strongly fostered by President Miloš Zeman as well as by the incumbent government in resignation, and became also one of hot transport themes of the latest parliamentary election campaign. The idea of the water corridor has appeared with positive or negative connotations and governmental efforts during more than a century, but without any definite decisions and actions taken by governments and public institutions.
The water corridor topic has a direct link to the fate of water transport in the country during the post-revolution period when it experienced a steep downturn. The decline of water transport in the Czech Republic might have had more reasons, but one of them certainly was governmental preference of construction of motorways and reconstruction of trunk railway corridors and, in turn, a palpable negligence of reconstruction and extension of waterway network, frequently supported also by inimical attitudes of some environmental organisations, in spite of generally acknowledged positive environmental impact of water transport in comparison to other transport modes. So while 39 new weir and lock systems had been constructed in Czechia during 1901 – 1989, no such site originated after 1989. In consequence of this, e.g. shallow riverbed at the lowest section of Elbe River near to the German border prevents navigation for a considerable part of the year.
Now the potential project is subject to discussions and disputes among Czech ministries, regions, municipalities as well as private companies and transport experts. Advocates of the water corridor accent not only the transport importance of the corridor representing a missing link between the Elbe and Baltic Sea to the Danube basin, but also its potential anti-flood effect (as the Czech Republic was repeatedly heavily hit by floods during last 15 years), positive impact on water resource management (possible irrigation of drying regions, such as Southern Moravia, by Danube water), and also ecological (such as lower carbon dioxides emissions and creation of new valuable biotopes), renewable energy, economically supportive, landscape and recreational impacts, They also mention a non-negligible argument that the corridor would boost inland water transport also in neighbouring Poland and Slovakia, where the project finds its supporters as well. According to the schedule of the Czech Ministry of Transport, the Danube – Odra – Elbe Water Corridor could be finished until 2039, with construction proceeding according to available financial sources and with the most difficult and expensive part connecting Olomouc town at the Morava River and Pardubice at the Elbe constructed at the very end of the presumed time span.
Adversaries of the project accent at first high technical and construction complexity of the project and its extensive financial demand (which would undoubtedly reach a total sum about 400 billion CZK, i.e. about 15 billion EUR). Ecologic and environmentalist initiatives express concerns about potential damage to natural biotopes and to the landscape, and also some municipalities and private companies defend against the project because of its zoning protection preventing them from introducing different developments instead.
The potential construction of the water corridor should be covered in its overwhelming share by European funds, as its financing is well over Czech budget resources. This would be impossible for the foreseeable future, as the former Czech government did not have objections to the omission of the water corridor project from the European TEN-T system in 2011. The activities of the recent Czech government in resignation to reintroduce the project to the TEN-T network undertaken in July 2013 came too late; the TEN-T network for the next 2014 – 2020 EU programming period was fixed by the “informal trialogue” of the EU Council, Parliament and Commission already in May 2013 and the next TEN-T revision phase comes into consideration as late as 2023. In its response to the Ministry the European Commission aptly stressed that the Czech Government failed so far to both perform necessary negotiations with concerned neighbouring countries and prepare a feasibility study that would in its result support the project.
The elaboration of this feasibility study that would perform economic and environmental appraisal of the water corridor project is in delay at least from 2005. Only the incumbent government in resignation made first practical steps to assigning the study by publishing a prior information notice for the respective service contract in December 2013 at the Czech and EU public contract websites. The tender for the elaboration of the study should be opened in early 2014 with the term of its submission by December 2015. Its cost is estimated about 25 million CZK (1.1 million EUR).
The future of the potential the Danube – Odra – Elbe Water Corridor is still unclear, and so is also the fate of the Czech inland waterway transport. It will be also influenced by the attitudes and efforts of the new Czech government in creation, also taking into account the future share of water transport infrastructure investment in the next 2014 – 2020 Operation Programme Transport.
By Emanuel Šíp
Allied Progress Consultants Association
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