Landmark Agreement for Rhine Flood Protection Project Rhesi

A new chapter in flood management and environmental restoration began with the signing of a treaty between Austria and Switzerland

June 07th, 2024
Yevheniia Symakova, News from Berlin
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On May 17, 2024, Austrian Water Management Minister Norbert Totschnig and Swiss Federal Councillor Norbert Rösti signed the fourth international treaty focused on flood protection for the Rhine River. This agreement not only aims to enhance flood defense but also continues a 130-year tradition of cooperation between the two nations to safeguard people, homes and businesses in the Rhine Valley.

During the formal signing ceremony held at the Wiesenrhein Bridge on the Austria-Switzerland border in Lustenau, Minister Totschnig emphasized the importance of the Rhesi project. He highlighted that Rhesi is the largest flood protection initiative in Austria and the most extensive renaturation project in Europe. The project aims to protect the population, secure drinking water supplies and create new habitats for flora and fauna. Totschnig pointed out the increasing urgency of the project due to climate change, which frequently underscores the necessity for flood defenses. He noted that a severe flood event, expected once in 300 years, could threaten 300,000 people and cause up to 13 billion euros in damage. To prevent this, the Austrian government is committing around 820 million euros.

Vorarlberg’s Governor Markus Wallner remarked that the signing of the fourth international treaty marks a historic milestone in cross-border cooperation. This step is crucial for advancing the Rhesi project. The total cost of the project, estimated at over 2 billion euros, will be equally shared by Austria and Switzerland. Vorarlberg will cover 25% of Austria’s share. To finalize the funding arrangements, Austrian Finance Minister Magnus Brunner and Governor Wallner signed an additional agreement on Friday.

The newly signed treaty outlines measures to reduce flood risks in the Rhine Valley between the Ill estuary and Lake Constance. Over approximately 26 kilometers, flood protection structures will be renewed or refurbished, and the river’s flow capacity will be increased. Led by the International Rhine Regulation (IRR), the Rhine will be restored to a more natural state, with its width expanded to about 150 to 200 meters. This transformation from a canal-like river to a natural watercourse will create a completely new landscape.

This recent treaty is the fourth in a series of international agreements on Rhine flood protection. The first treaty was signed in 1892 between Austria-Hungary and Switzerland, followed by agreements in 1924, 1954 and now 2024.

Despite this landmark agreement, it will take time before the changes are visible. The project will not commence until all necessary procedures are completed, with construction expected to start no earlier than 2027. The entire construction phase will span approximately 20 years, with the completion of the Rhesi project anticipated by the early 2050s.

The Rhesi project reflects the enduring partnership between Austria and Switzerland and their commitment to protecting their shared environment and communities from the increasing threat of climate change.


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