Freshwater - National Responses (Switzerland)

SOER 2010 Common environmental theme (Deprecated) expired
This content has been archived on 21 Mar 2015, reason: A new version has been published
SOER Common environmental theme from Switzerland
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 21 Mar 2015

Water protection in Switzerland has a firm legal basis in the Water Protection Act and the Ordinance adopted under it. The Water Protection Ordinance defines the ecological targets and water quality requirements (including certain micropollutants) for surface and groundwaters, which must be met at all times. Minimum residual flow levels for all water abstraction points are defined; already existing water abstraction points must be rehabilitated in order to meet intermediate targets by 2012.

As a result of a recent legislative initiative, the Water Protection Act and Ordinance are currently being amended, focusing especially on the following issues:

  • assured financial support for surface water restoration measures, with the target of returning 4000 km of surface waters to a more natural state within 80 years;

  • mandatory strategic planning of restoration activities;

  • rehabilitation of hydropower plants to ensure linear continuity for fish migration;

  • engineering measures to reduce the dynamics of hydropeaking (e.g. retention basins);

  • measures to reactivate the bed load balance.


To mitigate point-source pollution by micropollutants, the largest wastewater treatment plants in areas concerned are to be upgraded with an additional treatment step. The corresponding legal basis is currently being established. Further research is under way to improve the understanding of diffuse pollution from micropollutants as a basis for developing appropriate mitigation strategies.

Flood risk prevention includes preliminary flood risk assessment and hazard mapping by 2011, along with the promotion of a modern flood protection policy with the following aims: ensuring adequate protection of areas vital to human livelihoods and economic development, limiting economic damage by means of a comprehensive prevention strategy, improving the handling of uncertainties and residual or remaining risks, and finally understanding rivers and streams as essential linking elements in landscapes and nature (BWG, 2001).

Description of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive

As a non-EU member, Switzerland is not bound to implement the WFD. However the Swiss legal system sets comparable targets regarding water protection and management. In contrast to the WFD, which is based on planning periods with specified targets, the Swiss legislation formulates binding requirements including a set of national limits which must be met at all times.

As a member of the international commissions of the Rhine River Basin and of the Lakes of Constance, Geneva, Lugano and the Lago Maggiore, Switzerland collaborates with its neighboring states to achieve water protection goals and to implement endorsed programmes, and thus indirectly adopts certain principles of the WFD.



  • FOWG 2001: Federal Office for Water and Geology (FOWG), Flood Control at Rivers and Streams, Guidelines, Bern, 2001.
  • SAEFL/FOWG 2003: Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape (SAEFL) and the Federal Office for Water and Geology (FOWG), Guiding Principles for Swiss watercourses. Promoting sustainable watercourse management. 12 pp., Bern, 2003.
  • FOEN 2009: Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), Strukturen der Fliessgewässer in der Schweiz. Zustand von Sohle, Ufer und Umland (Ökomorphologie); Ergebnisse der ökomorphologischen Kartierung. Stand: April 2009. Reihe Umwelt-Zustand 09/26, Bern, 2009.

The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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