River contracts

2 min read
Credits: Anna Brusarosco
Credits: Anna Brusarosco

River Contracts (RCs) are voluntary agreements between stakeholders for managing water bodies. They were introduced in France in the '80s as a territorial management tool in response to a growing interest among citizens in the topic of river protection. At a European level, they began to spread in 2000, when they were presented at the 2nd World Water Forum in The Hague as forms of agreement that allow "the adoption of a system of rules in which the criteria of public utility, economic performance, social value, environmental sustainability intervene equally in the research for effective solutions for the restoration of a river basin".

RCs are aimed at applying a new governance system for sustainable development through an holistic and integrated approach between local development and environmental protection, involving participatory, evidence-based action plans that are jointly developed by the territorial actors that express specific interests relating to a water body. Their explicit objectives are mainly related to mitigation and prevention of hydrogeological risk, restoration of ecosystems, waterscapes enhancement and they are recognized as a direct way to implement effectives policies in these sectors. Indeed, RCs are participatory planning tools, and strongly encouraged by the Water Framework Directive “not only as sectoral tools for water resource protection and management, but also as catalysts of a new culture of water”. Therefore, bringing water awareness into communities is equally a priority. RCs also contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life below Water) and 15 (Life on Land).

Credits: Anna Brusarosco
Credits: Anna Brusarosco

In Italy RCs were first legally recognised at the national level in 2015. Italian River Contracts are very different from one another, depending on the stakeholders and territories involved and on specific rules at regional level. However, there are certain fixed procedural steps that all Contracts must complete before arriving at the final signature of the agreement, including a Memorandum of understanding, a Territorial analysis, a Strategic document containing a medium-long term vision for the water body, and a Programme of actions that the Contracts signatories are committed to implementing in the short term. All these steps should be grounded in stakeholders involvement and participation. Various documents by the National River Contracts Board, that is the coordination and promotional body at the national level, are replete with references to RCs as a process rather than a project, stressing the importance of each step and the procedural aspect in order to build awareness among stakeholders and riverine communities.

Credits: Anna Brusarosco
Credits: Anna Brusarosco

RCs were introduced in the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region in 2016 by the regional government, but a first experience had already been started in 2014 for the Natisone River. In recent years we have witnessed a rapid diffusion of this tool on the regional territory. At the moment, we have 3 signed River Contracts, 3 ongoing processes at different stages, one new process will officially start soon with the signature of the memorandum of understanding and there are other associations and municipalities that have expressed an interest in starting a River Contract process for 3 other rivers.

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