Taming the Odra river
Saving lives in Poland with flood protection measures.
Looking from the Millennium Bridge in Wrocław, the Odra meanders without haste under the pale autumn sun. A picture of calm today, it is difficult to imagine the havoc it wreaked on the city of Wroclaw and the surrounding areas in 1997, in what is still described as “one in a hundred years flood.”
Swelled by the waters from the melting snow in the mountains, the Odra ran through Wrocław with a devastating force, leaving nothing but destruction in its wake. 54 lives were lost, as many as 700,000 households flooded while 110,000 families had to be evacuated.
The cost of the flooding was estimated at US 2.3 billion at the time.
Odra flood protection project
Following this catastrophic flood, the Polish government initiated measures to upgrade the flood prevention infrastructure in the country, and in the Odra basin in particular.
The CEB had been working for years to increase protection from the floods for the millions of people living in the Odra river basin.
In 2005, the Bank approved € 251 million for a 10-year loan for the Odra flood protection project, co-financed by European Cohesion Fund, World Bank and Government of Poland.
Wrocław flood system modernisation
Krzysztof Broś, the Hydrotechnical Department Manager at AECOM (one of the project’s contractors), lived through the 1997 flood in Wrocław. He still remembers the sense of panic that gripped the residents when the Odra came crashing through the city.
According to Broś, the main problem in 1997 was that Wrocław’s flood system did not have the capacity to deal with the sheer volume of water that hit the city in a matter of days. This is why increasing the flow capacity of the city’s channels has been the paramount goal of the project from the start.
The river had to be dredged, its bed deepened and its banks widened; excavating 3.5 million cubic meters of soil in the process.
Modernising Wrocław’s flood protection system meant building new dykes, weirs and floodgates; reinforcing river embankments; and constructing synchronised dams. Taken together, these measures help manage the water flow through the canals to prevent floods.
Commenting on the scale and complexity of the modernisation works, Broś said: “In an engineering practice, this is a once in a lifetime project.”
Scaling up: new Odra-Vistula project
The Odra flood protection project is credited with having developed a pilot for the institutional structure and capacity to implement very complex works for which, in this case the cooperation is required of four ministries, numerous local governments and agencies, and multiple funding sources.
In 2015 the CEB approved a new loan of € 300 million to improve flood protection for people living in the Odra and Vistula river basins. This new project will benefit about 5.2 million people living in the vicinity of the two rivers.