River habitat monitoring and assessment in Germany

Environ Monit Assess. 2007 Apr;127(1-3):209-26. doi: 10.1007/s10661-006-9274-x. Epub 2006 Oct 21.


Whereas assessing the biological and chemical quality of water is a standard environmental procedure in many countries, the use of habitat survey methods that assess the ecomorphological quality of rivers is relatively new. In Europe, the EC Water Framework Directive requires such assessment from all EU Member States. In Germany, the first river habitat assessments were introduced in the late 1990 s. Each federal state develops its own river habitat map using the 'On-site Survey' and/or the 'Overview Survey'. The assessment describes the difference of the actual condition from a previously defined reference condition. In practice, a defined 'potential for restoration', a more realistic condition, makes restoration activities much easier and more successful. In Germany, the first River Habitat Map 2001 was published in 2002. The survey covered 33,000 km of river length, which equates to 10% of all rivers. A wide range from 'Undisturbed' (class 1) to 'Totally Disturbed' (class 7) river units exists; 77% of them are 'Clearly Disturbed' (class 4) or in worse condition. These result reflects extensive anthropogenic impact on the environment in general, but also past intense technical river 'improvements' that focused on the protection of settlements and traffic routes from flooding, better shipping conditions, the use of water power, and drainage of floodplains for agriculture and urban development. For comparability of survey results between EU Member States, a harmonization of national survey methods is in progress. A crucial point here is the definition of the reference condition for each river (near-natural conditions), since it influences the survey results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Germany
  • Rivers*