Initiative calls for cleanup of Swiss rivers

The initiative wants to prevent a scene like this Keystone

Fishermen and environmental organisations are demanding that rivers and brooks be restored to their natural state to protect Swiss fish stocks.

This content was published on July 3, 2006 - 12:29

The Swiss Fisheries Federation says that 90 per cent of rivers are obstructed, channelled or detrimentally influenced by power plants.

The federation, supported by WWF Switzerland, Pro Natura and Aqua Viva, handed in an initiative to the federal authorities in Bern on Tuesday calling for the trend to be reversed.

The initiative was signed by around 160,000 people – 60,000 more than the minimum required to force a nationwide vote. The campaign organisers want riverbeds and riverbanks to be cleaned up, and the creation of cantonal funds to pay for the work.

The federation's president Werner Widmer said Switzerland's remaining fish stocks were under threat.

He said that eight of the 57 indigenous fish species in Switzerland were no longer found in the country and 37 others were endangered or dying out. And catches of trout have gone down by 60 per cent since 1980.

Widmer said that artificial river barriers often blocked access to the natural breeding areas of the fish.


The water quality was generally poor, which encouraged the spread of disease.

And he pointed the finger at operators of hydroelectric power plants for causing artificial rises in water levels.

The campaigners said that 12 years after the introduction of a water protection law in Switzerland, the result was pretty disappointing.

Water flows

The WWF said the initiative was a call to both the authorities and the operators of power plants to modify the regulations on water flows.

Pro Natura's Beat Jans argued that the issue of dried up riverbeds had been delayed for years, with no other natural habitat having suffered so much from human influence.

He said all major Swiss rivers had been adjusted or held back and one out of five watercourses had been buried and had disappeared from the landscape.

Pro Natura warned in May that thousands of fish and aquatic animals were dying out through an over-harnessing of rivers.

It accused hydroelectric power companies of shutting the sluice gates to numerous watercourses in their pursuit of profits.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Switzerland has one of the most diverse plant and wildlife habitats in Europe.
Over the past 150 years, 224 species of plants and animals have disappeared.
Eight of the 57 original fish species found in Switzerland are now extinct and 37 are endangered.

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In brief

Numerous rivers and streams dry up periodically as a result of water withdrawals. Since 1992, legal requirements have existed concerning the minimum amounts of water – or residual flow - to be maintained in streambeds downstream of a withdrawal site.

Over-harnessing of water upstream is thought to dry up rivers and have a harmful effect on plants and wildlife.

Pro Natura is the largest conservation organization in Switzerland. Founded in 1909, it has an annual turnover of SFr12 million.

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