Traisen LIFE+ Interview with Project Manager Helmut Wimmer, VERBUND Hydro Power AG
What makes the Traisen LIFE + project so special?
So far, Traisen LIFE+ is Austria's largest renaturation project. The Traisen estuary, which, during the construction of Altenwoerth Power Plant, was relocated and straightened out, will receive a completely new riverbed in a new floodplains setting. This will take six years, until 2019, and will cost 26 million Euro, of which VERBUND will account for 12 million and the rest will be contributed by EU funds and partners from the Austrian government and the province of Lower Austria.
Will mistakes made in the past be rectified here?
When planning the Danube power plants 40 years ago, other factors stood in the foreground. The main focus was the direct benefit for mankind: electricity generation, flood protection, expansion of agricultural areas, in other words, the priorities were different. Today we know more, including the value of a diversity-rich landscape. Examinations for the environmental impact declaration of the project have revealed that the current flora and fauna existing in today's floodplains is amazingly rich in diversity. This is the premise of the Traisen LIFE+ project.
This won't generate a single additional kilowatt hour of power, so why all the effort?
As operator of the Danube power plants, VERBUND has a responsibility vis-à-vis the environment. For a long time the renaturation of the river Traisen has been a goal of many initiatives, which is now being boosted by VERBUND as a strong partner and good neighbour. The Traisen LIFE+ project is no individual case. The efforts are well worth the while: 30% of the sites housing VERBUND power plants were placed under nature conservation after construction of the plants.
What constituted the greatest obstacles?
We had to convince the local residents that we were neither mining gravel nor erecting a flood protection dam but intended to establish an ecological flagship project. As such, we were dependent on the support and approval of all landowners the floodplains. After all, the project is to benefit all stakeholders, from citizens wanting to enjoy the floodplains' biodiversity for recreational purposes to fishermen and hunters to forestry operations. And I especially want to applaud the collaboration with the authorities in charge.
How will things progress from here?
When felling trees in the floodplains, we are bound by nature's cycle: Only in winter and spring may trees be felled. Over the period of the next six years, the Traisen will, little by little, receive a natural course. From then on, the landscape will be shaped by the river in accordance with its natural cycle. The first construction measures are currently being initiated. Following the clearance, the construction site will be examined for relics from the war era, cycle path detours and the necessary construction paths will be established, and only then will the actual excavation work begin.