1. Introduction


Europe is an urban and increasingly urbanising continent. Roughly three quarters (72.4%) of the total EU28 population lives in cities, towns and suburbs (Eurostat, 2015). Although the speed of urbanisation has slowed down, the share of the urban population continues to grow, and is likely to reach more than 80% by 2050 (European Commission, 2014; EEA, 2015d). This will pose a range of challenges for the natural resources and ecosystems within and close to urban regions, including the rivers, streams and lakes which are part of the landscape of European cities.

In Europe, as in other industrialized parts of the world, the quality of urban rivers and lakes degraded after the 19th century due to the increasing numbers of settlements and industries discharging untreated wastewater. Urban rivers and lakes were also structurally modified to accommodate human uses such as navigation, construction activities and flood protection.

In recent decades, and after the gradual improvement of water quality due to wastewater treatment (this driven in part by the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive) and reduced industrial activities, urban rivers and lakes have become increasingly important in the planning of urban ecology, green infrastructure and green areas in European cities. Especially, river and lake restoration, often as integral parts of city development projects and urban planning, are now offering win–win situations: they improve flood control and ecological functions while offering recreational value and raising the quality of life in urban areas. Furthermore, integrating green and blue spaces in the design of the urban fabric reduces overheating and pollution, thus mitigating the strength and impacts of the urban heat island effect (EEA, 2012b).

comments (1)

Activities on the restoration of urban rivers and lakes are likely to expand further as urban development  continues and demands for a sustainable and enhanced quality of life increase.

Around the world, there are increasingly more and more examples exploring how people can live with water in their cities in the coming decades. Cities are developing visions for safer and aesthetically more attractive city locations, built on sustainable water management principles and good practices. The OECD recently showcased good practices to promote a strategic vision across sectors, to engage with stakeholders and to foster integrated urban water management in cities and their hinterlands, via rural-urban partnerships and metropolitan governance (OECD, 2016).

In Europe, many examples of restoring rivers and lakes in cities and towns to serve different purposes already exist (EEA 2016a; 2015b; 2015e; RESTORE, 2013; UNISDR, 2012), and are partly (but not only) driven by the objectives of key water policies, such as the EU Water Framework Directive.

In fact, in the European Union, there are several policy processes that act as drivers for managing urban rivers and lakes in a more integrated way. This links up to the implementation of several EU Directives such as the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, the Water Framework Directive, the Floods Directive, the Birds and Habitats Directives as well as other policies including the EU strategy on adaptation, Green Infrastructure and more recently the Urban Agenda for the EU. These policy processes and their interplay with one another contribute to linking water quality improvements with ecosystem protection, climate change adaptation and recently with urban development in cities across Europe.

comments (1)

Objectives of this report

The EEA acknowledges the importance of the sustainable use of natural resources in urban areas and has recently issued reports on resource-efficiency in cities (EEA 2015a; 2015b; 2015c) as well as urban adaptation to climate change (EEA 2016a; EEA, 2012b). The EEA has also addressed the various perspectives and perceptions of quality of life in Europe’s cities and towns, thereby defining a vision for progress towards a more sustainable well-designed urban future (EEA, 2009, EEA 2015e).

In this context, the current report aims to:

-          Outline the ways European cities develop strategies and measures to cope with the key challenges they currently face for their inland surface waters (rivers and lakes).

-          Showcase specific measures, strategies and initiatives on river and lake restoration, flood protection, stormwater management and water quality improvements in cities across Europe which can serve as source of inspiration and lessons learned.

The report aims to reach a broad public and citizens across Europe and illustrate that river and lake restoration does not necessarily only take place far away from centres of human activity. On the contrary, river and lake restoration is feasible and even desirable within the towns and cities we live in.

In this sense, the use of the term restoration in this report is not limited to “a management process striving to re-establish the structure and function of ecosystems as closely as possible to the pre-disturbance conditions and functions”(Wagner et al., 2007). The term restoration is used more broadly to refer to activities that aim to improve the status of degraded waters, be it by improving water quality, by changing hydromorphological conditions (see wiki.reformrivers.eu/) and also to serve other needs and preferences of the urban population, i.e. multi-functionality.

This report does not seek to provide guidance on how to carry out urban river and lake restoration. The geographical and socio-economic context as well as the ecosystems potentially targeted by restoration projects in cities and towns may greatly vary. This means that restoration processes and methods cannot usually be implemented in the same way across different locations. Nevertheless, the report draws some key conclusions and lessons learned from good practice examples on river and lake restoration in selected European cities.

comments (0)

Structure & method of report

In order to provide useful examples and lessons learned from real-life cases, a screening of restoration strategies and projects in European cities took place for the purposes of this report. On the basis of this screening, seventeen case studies were selected to cover a range of relevant issues and to ensure geographical spread. The seventeen case studies are presented in separate factsheets in the Annex to this report. These factsheets provide information on the key water management issues, restoration measures and strategies implemented in the case studies, the main results and benefits as well as key lessons learned.

The case studies have served as a source of evidence and illustration for the key issues put forward in the main part of this report, especially in order to reflect on main types of restoration measures and strategies for urban rivers and lakes and to frame some of the key issues that are potentially relevant to different urban settings across Europe. In addition other examples of water management in European cities are mentioned in the report.

The following table gives an overview of the case studies reviewed and illustrated in more detail in the Annex.

Table 1           Case studies of this report




Title   of case study



River Aarhus

Reopening the River Aarhus




River Dâmbovița

Wastewater treatment in   Bucharest




River Luppe

Revitalization project in   Leipzig’s urban floodplain forest (Living Luppe)




Podutik reservoir

Multi-functional flood   reservoir Podutik



United Kingdom

River Mayesbrook

Mayesbrook River and park   restoration initiative




River Dyle

Flood protection /   restoration of the River Dyle




River Sokołówka

Restoration of the River   Sokołówka



United Kingdom

River Quaggy

River Quaggy in Sutcliffe   Park




River Yzeron

Flood protection /   restoration in the River Yzeron




River Guadiana

Restoration of the River   Guadiana




River Isar

Urban river restoration on   the River Isar



The Netherlands

River Waal

Room for the River Waal




Streams & rivers

Water in the City - the Oslo   strategy for de-culverting its streams and rivers




River Emscher

River Emscher re-conversion




Lake Trekanten, Igelbäcken   stream

Stockholm Water Programme   for improved water quality and recreational value including the cases of the   Lake Trekanten and the Igelbäcken Stream




Lake Ülemiste

Protection of Tallinn’s   drinking water resources: The case of Lake Ülemiste




River Liesing, Wienfluss,   old Danube

Restoration measures and   strategies for Vienna’s urban water bodies


comments (2)


Chapter 2 outlines the importance of rivers and lakes as key features of European cityscapes and describes the key impacts of urbanisation on rivers, streams and lakes. It also discusses the way we view urban rivers and lakes, their functions and services to people has changed in recent decades. It also illustrates how European cities have started developing visions and strategies for more sustainable management of their water bodies.

comments (0)

Chapter 3 addresses the major challenges that European cities face for their urban rivers and lakes; these challenges are grouped into water availability and supply challenges, water quality issues and structural changes, related among others also to flood risk management. The chapter provides a brief review of the issues at stake, documents the key approaches to deal with the issues and gives case study illustrations.

comments (0)

Chapter 4 summarises key lessons learned from the reviewed case studies and frames some key contextual issues which are important for planning and running river and lake restoration activities in cities. This section also highlights some significant challenges for the future, and identifies opportunities for more effective restoration of rivers and lakes in an urban setting.

comments (0)