What We Do

Advocacy for healthy rivers, clean water,
and freshwater life


Living Rivers Foundation engages in the protection of healthy rivers, clean water and freshwater life, and the restoration of rivers landscapes – in Europe and internationally. Our work is focused on advocacy and public debate: Together with our partners, we call for better implementation of policies that treat water and river management as a cross-cutting issue. We promote the idea of making economics work for the environment and promote dismantling harmful subsidies. We believe that Europe can do better in protecting the last wild rivers. Therefore we advocate the establishment of a growing network of strictly protected free rivers across Europe.




The future of the EU’s water policy and
the Water Framework Directive

By it’s nature, water is a cross-cutting issue. The widespread failure to integrate water into other policies is the main reason why most rivers, lakes and coastal waters in the EU are failing to reach good status. Instead of changing the legal framework, it is hight time for better implementation.

Living Rivers Foundation is member of European Environmental Bureau (EEB) in Brussels, Europe’s largest association of environmental civil society organisations. Together with partners from all across Europe, we engage in the debate about the future of the EU’s water policy that was initiated with the “Fitness-Check” of the Water Framework Directive in 2018. Many of the current points of discussion were already debate in the context of the “Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources” in 2012. The EEB’s position on the Blueprint is still worth reading.

Two recent articles by Tobias Schäfer on the future of the EU’s water policy represent Living Rivers Foundation’s position
on the Fitness Check 2018/19 (s. articles and presentations).


The EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) marked the beginning of a new era of European Water Policy when it came into force in the year 2000. For the first time, ambitious objectives for the ecological status of surface waters were defined, along with a binding timeframe for their achievement and respective monitoring requirements. A non-deterioration obligation for the status of water bodies was introduced.

In order to make river basin management operational, basin-wide management plans and programs of measures were launched, requiring agencies to provide a high degree of transparency and foster public participation. Water management under the WFD is based on a combination of legal provisions such as regulatory and planning instruments as well as a set of economic instruments rooted in the polluter-pays principle. In doing so, the WFD continues to be the role model for progressive environmental policy in Europe.


Making economics work for water and the environment

In line with the polluter-pays-principle, Living Rivers Foundation advocates the implementation of water pricing and other economic incentives that can help establish more efficient water use and support the achievement of environmental objectives. Most importantly however, harmful subsidies such as direct payment schemes under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy need to be revised.

Living Rivers Foundation is a partner of Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fischeries (IGB Berlin) in a project on ecosytem services of rivers (RESI).


Fostering better understanding of stream ecology and river landscapes

All over the world, natural river landscapes are becoming more and more rare. Urbanization and intensive agriculture are taking their toll: wetlands, floodplains and riparian forests are disappearing. At the same time countless river engineering and hydropower projects are under construction or in planning throughout the world. Rivers are embanked, straightened and backed-up.

The impacts are severe: habitats for freshwater fauna and flora are destroyed and functional connectivity within the river system is lost. Lack of riparian buffer zones leads to increased nutrient input. Straightened channels result in decreased retention areas and retention time. Lack of riparian vegetation and instream features, such as gravel banks decrease the rivers self-purification potential.

Healthy river systems contribute significantly to the protection of flora and fauna. With impacts of climate change are becoming more and more prominent and with them the occurrence of extreme weather events, natural retention areas are becoming increasingly important in order to mitigate flooding events.