Vltava River to get two "new" islands

Rohansky Island

In 2002, the Prague district of Karlin was one of the worst-affected by flooding on the Vltava river. Restoration of damaged buildings continues to this day, but Prague planners see a bright future for the area, including parks, new office and residential buildings, and two new islands.

Afternoon traffic rushes along the street that's known as Rohanske nabrezi, or Rohansky Island Embankment. Only this isn't really an embankment. There's no water here, and no island. The arm of the Vltava River that once separated the land to my left was filled in in the 1920s, and since then, Rohansky Island has been a geographic oddity, a name on a map that doesn't match reality.

Soon that will change. The city of Prague plans to dig two canals in the district of Prague 8, restoring two former islands Rohansky Island right here to my left, and a few kilometers downstream, Maninsky Island.

"It's one part of the planned restoration of infrastructure in this part of town. It simply means removing the landfill that was dumped here some decades ago - which shouldn't be complicated to do. Really it's a matter of channeling water in such a way this whole area becomes a neighborhood that is both pretty and interesting for people."

Pavel Klega is Prague's deputy mayor responsible for the project. He says that since the 2002 floods, Prague has been looking for a good way to redevelop the most devastated areas adjacent to the Vltava River.

"This was one idea submitted to the city of Prague. We debated it, and in the end we liked it best, in part because it includes literally restoring Rohansky and Maninsky Islands as islands. But this will be part of a broader program to bring development to the area, with a quite a bit of new of housing and other elements that will make this a significant new urban center."

Already, that center is taking shape. Several stylish office buildings have gone up on Rohansky Island's western edge. But behind the glass and granite, there's a tangle of weeds and abandoned buildings. This year, the city of Prague will spend at about 280 million crowns, or 140 million US dollars, improving plumbing, gas lines, and other infrastucture on the island. In Mr. Klega's dreams, when this progress is finished in two to three years time, it will include two waterfalls, a 60 hectare sport and recreational center, and a wharf for private boats.

Jiri Friedel is with Povodi Vltavy, the state agency that regulates activities on the Vltava River. He says the two new islands will also reduce the risk of future catastrophic floods.

"Actually the main reason for doing this is to reduce the risk of catastrophic flooding. Combined with improvements to the Libensky Bridge downstream from here, the channels around these islands should lower the high water mark by several dozen centimeters. Back when the land was filled in, in the 1920s, they were trying to deepen the Vltava so that freight to pass on boats. But today we're concerned with averting another flood."

While work is already well underway, the formal restoration of Rohansky and Maninsky Islands as true islands - through the excavation of two new channels in the Vltava river - will probably be completed in 2010.