Response to EC Draft Guidance on the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy river restoration targets

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Eurelectric’s key messages to the European Commission draft Guidance on the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy river restoration targets i.e. establishing at least 25 000km of free-flowing rivers by 2030

Eurelectric, assesses this draft publication, provided by the European Commission to the Member States, as a helpful tool to provide technical guidance in the interpretation and implementation of the target of the Biodiversity Strategy 2030 to establish at least 25,000 km of free-flowing rivers by 2030. We support both, the document’s non-binding nature as well as its emphasis on the removal of obsolete barriers. Removing obsolete barriers does not affect the hydropower sector as . Hydropower plants that are actively generating renewable electricity and renewable flexibility are not obsolete. However, requirements to change flow regimes certainly can risk Europe loosing renewable energy, vital flexibility and storage necessary, all provided by hydropower for the energy transition. Our comments focus on five main issues, which may give the reader a better grasp of the scope of the document and help to clarify the linkages between this document, existing EC directives, and other interconnected guidance documents, such as the CIS guidance documents supporting the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

1. First, the document under consultation targets natural rivers in high status (according to the WFD). This is mentioned several times in the draft, but should be placed and stressed at the very beginning of the document in order to avoid misunderstanding of the scope. This would also acknowledge the key role of Heavily Modified Water Bodies (HMWB) to secure existing uses such as the generation of renewable electricity or flood protection. Currently, the non-scope of the draft for HMWB cannot be easily found. The difference of targets and implementation steps for different water bodies (Natural, Artificial and Heavily Modified water bodies) must be made clearer in wording and should be made visible throughout the entire publication to clarify the scope. Eurelectric calls on the European Commission to ensure that the final version clearly defines that Heavily Modified Water Bodies (HMWB) and Artificial Water Bodies (AWB) are not part of the remit of this report.

2. Second, we welcome the draft’s strong link to the WFD and other official documents as it stresses the importance to refer to existing definitions. The WFD Common Implementation Strategy has produced more than 30 guidance documents, which are key documents for authorities and stakeholders to find common ways of implementing the directive. However, in this draft guidance there are some additional interpretations in the references to the WFD, which are not completely in line with the WFD or CIS guidance documents. In our understanding, some proposed definitions for free flowing river are too stringent and could prevent finding cases to implement the BDS strategy. If the assignment of water bodies is carried out properly, then the ‘High Status’ according to the WFD shall satisfy also the target of a ‘free-flowing status’ of specific river stretches. As an example of additional interpretation is a statement claiming that it is mandatory to put in place mitigation measures to restore continuity as much as possible to meet good potential of HMWB. However, also CIS guidance document 37 clearly stated, that river continuity is not a target itself. Mitigation measures to enhance river continuity shall be considered and possible improvement of BQEs assessed. After the assessment the most cost-effective mitigation measures to reach BQEs in good potential shall be implemented. Eurelectric calls on the European Commission to acknowledge the strong links between biodiversity and water policy and, therefore, to align the draft guidance with existing regulation and guidance papers.

3. Third, we welcome the concept of “river functional units” (RFU) which implies a site-specific definition of “free-flowing” taking into account the local conditions such as tributaries, adjacent floodplains, and local biodiversity. We appreciate the open definition of RFUs allowing Member States to assess free flowing rivers on a case-by-case basis. The Guidance Document should set a more specific procedural framework for this definition so that a case-by-case delineation can be done to reflect local conditions. We propose to introduce the new “river functional unit” (RFU) concept at the beginning of the document. Furthermore, we stress that connectivity per se is not an ecological goal. Aiming river connectivity only makes sense when it is related to the life cycle of the local aquatic fauna. Eurelectric calls on the European Commission to acknowledge the case-by-case definition of RFUs very clearly to allow a thorough site-specific implementation of the current guideline.

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