Waterways have been playing a crucial role in developing civilizations since the very beginning. New villages were built in the vicinity of rivers and that helped them engage in trade and eventually – transform into cities. Until the end of the 19th century, people were aware of the significance of internal waterways for the development of economy, especially in the case of the now northern and western parts of Poland. Thus, people would heavily invest in hydraulic engineering, including building waterways. This trend has been steadily declining in Poland after World War II, as road transport slowly outcompeted inland navigation.
Years of reductions in waterways investments have created backlogs so severe that it has now become necessary to set priorities, create long-term investment plans and procure funds for the financing of these works.
The Marshals of five Poland voivodeships have come up with a unique local government initiative aimed at overcoming what for many years has seemed impossible with regard to inland navigation and development of water tourism. The initiative is focused on the Polish section of the International Waterway E70.
The scheduled tasks of the initiative were laid out in 2011 in The Programme and Spatial Concept for revitalisation of the west-east inland waterway that covers the rivers: Oder, Warta and Noteć, the Bydgoszcz Canal, the rivers: Brda, Vistula, Nogat and Szkarpawa, and the Vistula Lagoon (planned Polish section of the IWW E70).
After the implementation of all the scheduled task, the following issues will have been addressed:
- construction of an environmentally friendly multi-modal transport system for tourism by setting up convenient connections of road, railway and water transport, and by simultaneously promoting forms of tourism, such as cycling and hiking;
- development of inland and maritime yachting and motor shipping on the IWW E70 and the Vistula Lagoon;
- development of port infrastructures and tourist facilities along the IWW E70;
- increasing the attractiveness of mass tourism by making the unique cultural and natural sites along this waterway routes accessible for visitors;
The project was divided into three stages, listed below.
Stage I (2010-2014)
- preparation of the pre-project documentation (programme and spatial concept);
- extensive public consultation;
- development of the IWW E70 revitalisation programme and carrying out the strategic environmental impact assessment;
- making amendments to the regulations governing administration of waterways (such as route opening and closing procedures, operating hours for locks and bascule bridges, toll systems regulations, etc.);
- introduction of legislative changes that would allow local government involvement in the construction and management of inland freight shipping
- development of the design documentation and cost estimates for the major tasks in the modernisation of the technical infrastructure of the IWW E70 (dredging the Noteć River, improving the locks, putting up navigational signs and tourist marks).
Stage II (2015-2020)
- construction of ports and tourist marinas;
- dredging the Bydgoszcz Canal and the Brda River (within the city of Bydgoszcz) in order to improve water and wastewater management for the city of Bydgoszcz;
- reconstruction of the estuarine section of the Vistula River as part of the programme “Comprehensive Flood Control Management in the Żuławy Depression Area by 2030”;
- modernisation of the Elbląg Port infrastructure – redevelopment of the Old Town Embankment (Zygmunt August Boulevard) and the construction of the drawbridges;
- repair works and adaptations of local waterway infrastructure administered by the Regional Water Management Boards in Gdańsk and Poznań from the state budget funds;
- creating small marinas by private investors, with facilities for tourism and leisure activities, to complement the existing accommodation and leisure infrastructure;
- implementing the major tasks in modernising the IWW E70 technical infrastructure (dredging the Noteć River and disposing of the deposits, improving the system of locks, putting up navigational signs and tourist marks, improving access by roads).
- preparing the pre-project documentation, environmental studies, designs and estimates for the reconstruction of the Silno – Fordon – Przegalina section of the lower Vistula;
- developing the pre-project documentation, environmental studies, designs and estimates for the improvement of water relations in the Noteć River Valley to ensure navigable depths throughout the navigation season;
- port infrastructure modernisation and expansion of the existing ports and transshipment terminals (Kostrzyn nad Odrą, Gorzów Wielkopolski, Krzyż, Ujście, Bydgoszcz, Malbork, Elbląg) to serve as logistics centres for local agriculture and industry, and areas of economic revival;
- development of multi-modal tourist integration centres near harbours and marinas of the main system (Kostrzyn nad Odrą, Gorzów Wielkopolski, Drezdenko, Wieleń, Krzyż, Czarnków, Ujście, Nakło, Bydgoszcz – Fordon, Chełmno, Świecie, Grudziądz, Korzeniewo, Gniew, Biała Góra, Malbork, Elbląg, Tczew, Sobieszewo, Krynica Morska, Frombork).
The project has entered its third stage for 2021-2030:
- stream canal improvement works of the lower Vistula in the Silno – Fordon – Przegalina section to meet the parameters of class IV waterways, ultimately as a section of the International Waterway E40 (Gdańsk – Odessa);
- construction of an inter-modal container terminal in Bydgoszcz in the area of the planned Łęgnowo Industrial and Technological Park (currently: Bydgoszcz / Solec Kujawski);
- removal of the technical obstacles on the Oder-Vistula waterway to meet class II parameters (incl. reconstruction of road and railway bridges, rebuilding of the fixed chamber of the Krostkowo lock, improving the radii of the bends of the navigable canal);
- improvement of water relations of the Noteć River Valley to ensure navigable depths throughout the navigation season – construction of a drainage system and reservoirs to supply the waterway during low water level periods;
- construction of new ports and transshipment terminals that will be related in function and distance with the areas of investments and the existing industrial and storage infrastructure – depending the economic circumstances and local needs;
- improvement of the technical parameters of the Szkarpawa River to class IV or Va as a waterway joining the seaports of Gdańsk and Elbląg and making the Vistula Lagoon accessible to inland vessels with a capacity of up to 2000 tonnes.
The project included in The Programme and Spatial Concept for revitalisation of the west-east inland waterway that covers the rivers: Oder, Warta and Noteć, the Bydgoszcz Canal, the rivers: Brda, Vistula, Nogat and Szkarpawa, and the Vistula Lagoon (planned Polish section of the IWW E70) outlined the engagement of the State (Ministry of Infrastructure, National Water Management Holding “Wody Polskie”) in the revitalisation of the Polish waterways, especially the ones within the international waterways network.
Unfortunately, it was only in 2017 that Poland ratified the European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN), adopting Assumptions For The Development Plans Of Inland Waterways In Poland For 2016-2020 With 2030 Perspective.
Under the above assumptions, four objectives and priorities have been set for the construction and modernisation of freight transport waterways.
- Priority I – The Oder Waterway (E30) – to achieve the international navigability class and to integrate it into the European waterway network;
- Priority II – The Vistula Waterways – to achieve a significant improvement in navigation conditions;
- Priority III – Connecting the Oder-Vistula-Vistula Lagoon (E70) with Vistula-Brześć (E40) – to develop international waterways;
- Priority IV – to further develop partnerships and cooperation focused on inland waterways.
The implementation of the third priority “Connecting the Oder-Vistula-Vistula Lagoon (E70) with Vistula-Brześć (E40)” was supposed to be divided into two parts and cost PLN 6.5 billion:
- 2016-2020 – PLN 2.5 B
- 2021-2030 – PLN 4 B
Unfortunately, no further action was taken to implement it; only the task concerning the Vistula-Vistula Lagoon connection was included in Priority II. In August 2021, the idea to improve navigation conditions on the Vistula and Oder was submitted to inter-ministerial consultations.
Additionally, the implementation of the National Navigation Programme 2030 is underway. It covers planning, actions, and investments in inland waterway transport until 2030. This strategy will primarily focus on the implementation of investment projects aimed at improving navigation conditions on waterways and actions to adapt the waterways to the challenges set forth by the sustainable development of the transport sector included in the 2021-2027 EU long-term budget. The scope of intervention includes the Polish sections of international waterways listed in the AGN, i.e. the Oder Waterway (E30), the Gdańsk-Warsaw section of the Vistula Waterway and the Warsaw-Brześć connection, as well as the Oder-Vistula and Vistula-Vistula Lagoon connection (E70). The development framework for the period after 2030 includes programmes setting out the infrastructure development directions in order to fulfil the provisions under the AGN which will ensure international navigability classes along inland waterways of international importance and the efficient transport of cargo along the entire Oder and Vistula. Unfortunately, the above programmes do not include the Oder-Vistula Waterway, which is the part of the Polish section of IWW E70.