Czech Republic prepares for drought-frequent future

Photo: Jeroen Moes, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Czech Republic this year witnessed one of the driest summers in its history, and experts predict that heatwaves, as well as other weather extremes, are to occur more frequently in the future. In view of these predictions, the Czech government has put together a team of experts to outline measures that will help fight floods and droughts.

Mark Rieder,  photo: Czech Television
The head of the team is Mark Rieder, director of the Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk Water Research Institute and I asked him just how serious was the situation in the Czech Republic.

“I think that the situation is quite serious. It is not just a question of droughts, but also a question of floods. We are predicting more extreme that will occur more frequently than ever before. This year saw one of the greatest droughts in the 21st century, the second highest since 1948, which was an extremely dry year.”

How would you say the Czech Republic is prepared for future weather extremes?

“I think not at all, actually. We are quite well prepared for the floods. We have flood management for our water structures, we have various commissions. But we need to build up the same system for the case of draughts.”

What are the measures that you have come up with so far?

“That is a difficult question, because there are more than 50 tasks for different ministries, the environment, agriculture and interior ministries, and other organizations as well.

“The Czech Republic is like a roof of Europe. We have to catch the water which rains here and we have to save it and manage it in a different way than the other countries.”

“We have grouped these tasks into certain areas. We have to make changes to the water laws, and we have to take measures concerning the landscape, as well as various environmental and technical measures. We also have to convince the general public that drought is a serious problem for the Czech Republic.”

One of the things that had been already discussed in the media is the plan to build new dams.

“Yes, that is the plan. We don't want to build the dams right now but we want to protect the areas where the dams could be built up in the future. In the past we had more than 400 places in the Czech Republic saved for potential dams. Nowadays, we have 65 such places and we want to enlarge this number.

“We want to protect these places against building, against highways and railways and against industrial development. We need to save these areas in case the climate change scenarios are confirmed and the climate really changes.

“In the future we will build the dams but we are talking about the horizon of 30, 40 or 50 years. So the question right now is how to protect these areas.”

Photo: Jeroen Moes,  CC BY-SA 2.0
And if I understand it correctly there had always been dams in some of these areas, the so-called splash dams.

“Yes, the historical remains of these constructions can still be seen in the mountain regions of the country. What is really important is to save and catch the water in the upper part of the catchments.”

“So we want to reconstruct these and we also want to reconstruct the ponds not only in the north and the south of the country, but also in eastern Bohemia, where there used to be a huge number of ponds in the past.”

Why did these ponds disappear in the first place? When did they vanish from the landscape?

“I think it was due to historical reasons, because of using the land for agricultural purposes and changing the management of the forests.”

And as far as I know, these timber floating reservoirs are mostly located in the mountain areas, in national parks. What do the environmentalists say to this idea?

„It depends on the national parks' management. For instance the Krkonoše National Park is quite optimistic about the idea and they actually welcome these activities. But the Šumava National Park is not so optimistic. We are talking about really small dams, for timber floating, like small ponds, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“We are quite well prepared for the floods, but we need to build up the same system for the case of draughts.”¨

Obviously there are other ways of keeping the rain water in the landscape. What are they?

“We have environmental friendly measures like furrows and hedgerows and also the artificial infiltration of the surface water into the ground waters. We can build up build up structures for the artificial infiltration to save the water in the ground.”

Will any of the measures that your team has suggested affect everyday life of people in the Czech Republic in terms of increasing the price of drinking water or limiting its usage?

“Yes, we are also considering the economic measures such as water pricing. We want to set the limit per person to about 200 litres per day. If you have higher consumption, than you also have to pay more.

„So if you have a swimming pool in the garden, you will pay more for drinking water, because you don't need a swimming pool. So yes, the governmental document will also include some economic measures.”

How much do we actually consume on average in these days?

“Between 80 and 100 litres a day per person.”

What are the nearest steps that you are planning to take?

“We are planning to present a plan on how we want to fulfil the tasks that we were given by the government in the summer. We will start to work on the legislation changes and we are also starting to work on some physical project, such as the artificial infiltration in the south Moravian and west Bohemian regions. We want the government to confirm these steps and we also need funds to carry them out.”

Photo: Miloš Turek
So far we were talking about the Czech Republic, but I guess you are also working on an EU level and cooperate with our neighbour states. Is that right?

“That's right. We have close contacts with Germany because one of their most important rivers, the Elbe, actually springs in Bohemia. And so does the Oder River, which springs in northern Moravia. So Germany is our close partner.

“But they don't have the same problems as we do. The Czech Republic is like a roof of Europe. All the rivers spring here and we have no significant discharge on our territory, so we have to catch the water which rains on the area of the Czech Republic and we have to save it and manage it in a different way than the other countries.”