Bringing life to the Oder River, from the source to the sea

July 31, 2023

In the coming days, July 31st- August 4th, 2023, various river stakeholders (academic staff, water-related institutions, municipalities and government representatives, locals, NGOs, business owners, individuals) from 11 European countries will visit the Oder Delta during the 4th edition of the international River University, organised by Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB) in collaboration with Rewilding Oder Delta (ROD). Taking the Oder River as an example and focusing on water pollution and risk management, they will explore the impact of the river’s condition on the Baltic Sea, as well as climate change’s consequences on the watersheds.

Aerial view of the river Oder at sunset
Florian Möllers / Rewilding Europe

The need for recovery 

In 2022, the Oder, the transboundary river of Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, having one of the extraordinary European deltas, experienced the worst scenario of environmental catastrophe on Europe’s scale, caused by anthropogenic pollution. To this day, the Oder River still registers a high level of salinity and conductivity. Saline discharges are an ongoing threat, and the toxic “golden algae” Prymnesium parvum is still present in the waters, with fish kills at specific points observed. These issues represent significant challenges for a smooth recovery.

The Oder River recovery should be addressed holistically rather than in silos. We need a source-to-sea approach and awareness of the role that healthy rivers play in achieving a Good Environmental Status in the Baltic Sea. Sustainable use and protection are the only long-term, wise approaches to such riverine areas. It is a well-known fact that natural rivers have a greater self-cleaning capacity, offering many benefits to their users,” – says Peter Torkler, Managing Director at Rewilding Oder Delta and co-organiser of this year’s River University edition. 

Protection Plans for the Lower Oder River 

The concept of a cross-border protected area of the Lower Oder River and its valley was made decades ago. This initiative is still considered, needed and wanted today, as it will benefit the river’s health and the region’s economy. Polish citizens of the Oder basin renewed these efforts with the initiative of Lower Odra Valley National Park. Already in the 1990s, a national park was established in the German part of this area.

During the River University, participants will go on a canoe trip in the vicinity of an existing German national park and a planned Polish national park, in order to experience the ecological state of the river and discuss the topics of sustainable use and protection of natural resources and water safety.

Between rivers and the sea

On Thursday, the participants together with the staff of ZERUM educational centre in Ueckermünde will conduct water quality studies on the Szczecin Lagoon and Uecker River. Water samples and aquatic organisms will be examined from a boat and analysed directly on-site. The lagoon with its direct connection to the Oder River and Baltic Sea is sensitive habitat; fluctuations in salinity and high water temperatures have always made the lagoon susceptible to algal blooms. The expertise on the condition of the lagoon is crucial for preventing such events from happening as well as awareness raising on the importance of healthy and clean waters. 

Connecting stakeholders and river practitioners 

Initially founded in 2018 by Ewa Leś, this year’s edition of the CCB River University is co-organised by Rewilding Oder Delta. The course will bring together various river stakeholders for five days of engaging indoor and outdoor workshops. The program includes presentations and hands-on activities led by top European academic staff and professionals. Among other sessions, the updated “International Warning and Alarm Plan for Oder Basin” will be analysed due to its significance for the Oder Basin community regarding alarming procedures and communication. Can people feel safe and well-informed in case a similar disaster happens again? 

The release and presentation of the new CCB research analysis, “The Greatest Water Management Challenges in the Baltic Sea Region”, is planned, aiming to support and foster positive changes in integrated sustainable water management in the region. 

There is a great need for up-to-date applied knowledge of river ecosystems and sustainable integrated water management practices. The River University delivers it in a practical and multi-sectoral manner while still being in contact with the river and its valley,” – says Ewa Leś, River University founder and CCB Eutrophication Working Area Leader.


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