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Transformation, Irrigation, and Navigation


Along the Danube River

Heather Douglas


            The boundaries between the human and the natural have existed only to be crossed on the river.[1] The Danube serves as a common link between man and nature in European countries. Transportation, irrigation, and navigation are important aspects of the Danube River that humans thrive upon. Rivers are symbols.[2] As the second longest river in Europe, the Danube crosses through nine countries and serves many in its watershed area proving the Danube is a major symbol of life to those it serves.

            Transportation along the Danube has been common since early records of traveling soldiers about 2,000 years ago.[3] In as early as 200 A.D., Roman soldiers, Germanic tribes, Crusaders, and Ottoman Turks all used the Danube to advance through Europe.[4] The Danube has served as a transportation route not only for soldiers but also tourists, as well as providing a route for trading and recreation purposes.

            The Danube River began to serve as a commercial link between nations in the 18th century.[5] The most important transportation along the Danube was through freight movement. Simply put, this was a process whereby nature- all things and relations in it – was conceived of, acted upon, and valued primarily for its capacity to be exchanged at market for profit.[6] The transporting of import and export goods became very cheap along the Danube. The Danube provides a route for moving bulk goods like coal and grain economically in a region where road and rail connections can be crowed and creaky.[7] River transportation was soon the main way in which goods were being shipped. The Danube is a 350-km-long traps-European waterway that links seaports on the North Sea to seaports on the Black Sea.[8] Shipping became simple due to the size and convenient path in which the Danube flows. The Maria Valeria Bridge, built in 1895, was a main bridge most freight travel occurred under before it was destroyed by German troops during the waning months of World War 11.[9] Like many structures along the Danube, the Maria Valeria Bridge is under going reconstruction still to improve its ability to aid in transportation along the river.

              The Danube flows from East to West through the countries of Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine.[10] “Most of the trade passed through here …” Teodora Kopcheva recalled about the prospering city of Ruse.[11] Ruse is one of many cities along the Danube that can take claim to Kopcheva’s statement. The Danube’s shores are crowded with economically flourishing cities that are mainly responsible for trading along the river.

            Transportation along the river, however, has been a main source of oil pollution and lead contamination of the Danube.[12] Although the Danube provides easy transportation routes through Europe, a significant amount of freight movement has polluted the river, damaging soil as well as habitats for all organisms that call the Danube their home.

            During the 6th to 17th centuries, irrigation techniques and water mills saw a marked development.[13] Drainage activities and the beginnings of irrigation canals were used to encourage agriculture as well as drain swamps and peat bogs in most areas along the Danube, especially in Czechoslovakia. Drainage activities and irrigation techniques are used still today to encourage a continual agriculture base along the Danube as well as the spread of water to a larger watershed area.

            Meadow irrigation dating back to the 18th century in Germany, along with the bulk of flood control, water regulation, and drainage works in Hungary completed in the 3rd and 4th centuries are still practiced in those regions to this day. These old irrigation systems were built mostly along natural gradients and can still be found in Lower Austria. Most of the old irrigation systems, however, have been reconstructed to ensure the effectiveness and stability of these systems.[14] Ferruh Anik declares “The water doesn’t flow for free.”[15] The reconstruction of the irrigation systems does cost a great deal, nevertheless, there is an obvious need for the water to flow thoroughly and continuously.

            Irrigation systems, because of their high cost and complex nature, require a powerful central management and tend to concentrate economic resources in a few hands.[16] The European Commission was established to control the delta and to supervise over the river as an international waterway.[17] The European Commission recognizes the Danube as the ‘single most important non-oceanic body of water in Europe…’[18] The Commission includes members from all countries neighboring or affected by the Danube River. The members of the Commission are required to report any shortcomings along the river, its delta, its irrigation canals, and any problems individuals living within the Danube watershed area may have.

            Water was a useful but obstreperous form of nature that awaited man’s steadying and constructive hand.[19] The development of irrigation systems allowed nature to stop waiting on man’s constructive labor. Irrigation attempts to help control or reduce the rate of flooding and stabilize the water levels. Nature, nonetheless, has its own plan. “What can I say, it’s in God’s hands.” Mr. Nedialker, a Bulgarian native, offers his position on the recent flood and drought occurrences along the Danube.[20]

            Navigable rivers were the key to regional development.[21] The Roman emperor Trajan understood this idea when he built the first tow path along the Danube at the Iron Gate in 100 A.D. That proved wishful thinking.[22] The Danube Waterway System is the result of hundreds of years of enhancements, such as canals, to make it the longest navigable river in Europe.[23] Since 1856, Danube countries have been cooperating for navigation to be successful. Hydraulic works in forms of dams and reservoirs can be found in mountainous areas of the Danube basin, while navigable channels, dykes, and irrigation networks are concentrated in the lowlands of the Danube basin.[24]

            The Sulina Channel was artificially diked during the period of 1860-1895 for navigation purposes.[25] This helped to increase the use of the channel and to further the concept to navigation along the Danube. Navigation has come to a halt in some sections of the Danube due to attacks between the Danube’s regional countries. The NATO bombings of various bridge sights to force Slobodan Milosevic to capitulate to NATO in the war over Kosovo may have served immediate political objectives, but did not consider the long-term effects. The riverbed is still full of debris and unexploded ordinance, making river navigation along the Kosovo area of the Danube virtually impossible.[26]

            LeRoy Dugas believes, “Whenever you try to control nature you’ve got one strike against you.”[27] Dugas’ ideas have been proven over and again along the Danube River. Navigation along the Danube stems from canals, irrigation systems, and other transformations along the river. Navigation has provided both good and bad results for the river. The good effects include the ability to travel and transport along the river. The bad effects include water pollution through accidental and illegal releases of toxic substances. These effects eventually lead to dangers in ecosystems and dangers in the water contamination levels for drinking and agricultural means.[28]

            “The Danube ‘simultaneously unites, defines, and divides central Europe’…” Guy Raz, a member of the NPR, states.[29] Transportation along the Danube has been efficient for a few thousand years. The Danube’s irrigation systems have been created by man to increase the use and efficacy of the Danube River in Europe and the countries it impacts. This is only natural.[30] Navigation has been an increasingly used new prospect along the river. The Danube has become of heightened importance and of viable use for Europe. It is not only unique for its direction of flow but also for the important perspectives that have developed and will continue to develop with time.













[1]      Richard White, The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995), xi.


[2]      Richard Bernstein, “The Danube Transformed: From River of Blood to River of Hope; DOWN THE DANUBE: At the Source,” The New York Times, 1 August 2003, sec.A, p.6.


[3]      Cathryn Vaughn, “The Danube River,” [text online] (student paper; Brandon High School) Report, para. 2; available from; Internet; Accessed 22 September 2004.


[4]     Ibid, para.2.


[5]      “The Danube River,” [text online] (government publication) Historical data, para.2; available from ; Internet; Accessed 22 September 2004.


[6]      Theodore Steinberg, Nature Incorporated: Industrialization and the Waters of New England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991), 13.


[7]     Suzanne Kapner, “Economic Havoc from European Floods,” The New York Times, 16 August 2002, sec. W, p.1.


[8]      Charles Wesley Orton, “The blue Danube Blues,” World Trade, July 2000, para.2.


[9]     Carl Kovac, “Historic Danube Crossing is Restored a Section at a Time,” Engineering News Record, 16 July 2001, vol. 247, iss. 3, p.20.


[10]     “The Danube River,” Introductory paragraph, para. 1.


[11]     Richard Bernstein, “A Declining City’s Past, a Dislocated Writer’s Memory; DOWN THE DANUBE: Remembered Glory,” The New York Times, 1 September 2003, sec. A, p.3.


[12]     “The Danube River,” Current Environmental Concerns, para.3.


[13]     Danube Valley: History of Irrigation, Drainage, and Flood Control,” [Book review online] Review, para. 2; available from; Internet; Accessed 22 September 2004.


[14]     Danube Valley: History of Irrigation, Drainage, and Flood Control,” [Book review online] Review, available from; Internet; Accessed 22 September 2004.


[15]     Diane Raines Ward, Water Wars: Drought, Flood, Folly, and the Politics of Thirst (New York: Riverhead, 2002), 189.


[16]     David E. Nye, “Remaking a ‘Natural Menace’: Engineering the Colorado River,” in Technologies Landscape: From Reaping to Recycling, ed. David E. Nye (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994), 108.


[17]     “The Danube River,” Historical data, para.2.


[18]     “Case Study on River Management: Danube,” [text online] (governmental publication) para.3; available from ; Internet: Accessed 15 November 2004.


[19]     Mark Fiege, Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West (University of Washington Press, 1999), 22.


[20]     Colin Woodward, “The Danube and Europe’s other rivers thirst for Water; [ALL Edition],” The Christian Science Monitor, para.15; 2 October 2003, sec. A, p.7.

[21]      Nye, 97.


[22]     Colin Woodward, “Singing the Danube Blues; [ALL Edition],” The Christian Science Monitor, para.22; 11 May 2000, sec. A, p.15.


[23]     Charles Wesley Orton, “Shipping to and From Europe,” World Trade, para. 10; May 2001, vol. 14, iss. 5, p.54.


[24]     Danube Valley: Navigation,” [Book review online] Review, para. 4; available from; Internet; Accessed22 September 2004.


[25]     “Plate D-2: Danube River Delta, Romania,” [Text online] (government publication0 para. 3; available from; Internet; Accessed 22 September 2004.


[26]     Guy Raz, “Following the Danube River: A History of Conflict, from Source to Sea,” [Text online] (NPR documentation) para. 9; available from ; Internet; Accessed 15 November 2004.


[27]     John McPhee, The Control of Nature (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989), 13.


[28]     Danube Valley: Navigation,” para.5.


[29]      Raz, para.1.


[30]      Paul R. Josephson, Industrialized Nature: Brute Force Technology and the Transformation of the Natural World (Washington: Island Press, 2002), 11.








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[The Danube River's Delta and Dams]

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