European rivers are subject to heavy demand. In this regard, hydromorphological alterations in connection with energy production or flood protection measures are among the most serious issues. Today only very few natural or near-natural river reaches remain, and in Austria only 15% of the rivers are classified as being in “very good” and a further 22% percent as being in “good” ecological condition. In keeping with the objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive, the National River Basin Management Plan defines measures intended to achieve a good ecological status and/or avoid the further deterioration of Austrias waterbodies.
At the same time, meeting the criteria of the EU Renewable Energy Directive is another important goal. In Austria, this especially involves the further expansion of hydropower. Reconciling resource conservation with usage demands, and transparently balancing these competing interests, calls for strategic planning. The following paper provides an overview of recommendations, guidelines and selected methodological approaches. Further, it examines three case studies that build upon one another methodologically to demonstrate in detail how protection prioritization systems for river reaches can be employed as effective pre-planning instruments. Lastly, it presents a method by means of which hydro-ecological, nature conservation and energy production aspects can be integrated into already available power plant planning schemes at the (supra-)regional level to significantly facilitate decision-making processes.