Massive sediment extraction from the River Drava, Croatia

Due to an old-fashioned water management system, the River Drava had been used for massive gravel and sand sediment excavation. Controversial extraction still persists but people oppose and demand respect of EU regulation on rivers

The River Drava flows through five different countries (Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary). It is one of the five largest tributaries of the Danube River, while Drava’s main tributary is the Mura River. The upper part of the river flow is heavily regulated and its ecological status has deteriorated, while the lower part of the river flow hosts some of the last free-flowing river sections in Europe, thanks ironically to the former political situation of the Iron Curtain. The free flowing sections of the river Drava is protected by national legislation (National Ecological Network) and proposed to be a Regional Park under IUCN international protection, and possibly as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Trans-boundary Reserve. However, due to an old-fashioned water management system over the last decade, the River Drava on its flow through Croatia had been used for massive gravel and sand sediment excavation. Although the commercial excavation of sediments is now forbidden in Croatia by an order from the EU, there are still some activities performed in the river bed such as regular river maintenance for flood protection mainly to cover up the on-going excavation activities. These activities have been performed by Hrvatske vode- the state company in charge of water management in agreement with various companies at several main points, such as Pertijevci, Pitomača and Varaždin. According to the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) the most devastating activity was at Petrijevci, 30 km from the mouth of the Danube, where more than 3,000,000 m3 of sand was excavated. The activities in Petrijevci do not count with any licence, legal document, environmental impact assessments or nature impact assessments, however the state characterized this action as of national interest, as the extracted sand was used in construction of Vc highway. Besides this 22 Hydro Power Plants are planned on Drava which would further endanger the ecosystem of the Drava River. Since 2003, the NGO Zelena akcija (Green action) together with WWF, The Drava League, Euronatur and The Drava Federation from Hungary have been actively campaigning against gravel excavation. They claim that excavation activity at the River Drava is in contradiction with the Croatian Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and Croatia’s Biodiversity Strategy, violating various international conventions and EU environmental laws, such as Convention on Biological Diversity, EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC), and the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC). The opponents also pointed out on gravel extraction activities impact on the habitat of endangered bird species little tern (Sterna albifrons). From 2003 till 2005 Green action and supporting organisations managed to close the gravel excavation site near Varaždin, by stopping the recent public tender for excavation of a further 2 million m3 of sediments from Drava. In turn, the illegal extraction in Petrijevci was stopped abruptly in September 2009 after an EU report on the Drava regulation project was issued. In 2009, Croatia and Hungary signed the Joint Declaration on the Establishment of Mura-Drava-Danube. In November 2011, based on the Declaration, the Croatian government adopted the Regulation and the Mura and Drava area was proclaimed a Regional Park banning the gravel and sand extraction from the Drava river. The private companies working in the gravel extraction complained on the decision, claiming that many persons will lose their jobs and the sand and gravel would have to be imported under the high prices. In Pitomača it was reported that the owner of one of the private companies verbally and physically attacked a local eco-activist, who has been reporting of illegal excavation activities on social media network. In April 2013, the governments made a proposal for change of the law in relation to water regulation, in order to allow the gravel and sand exploitation in special cases (where it is necessary in order to regulate the river and where excavation activities do not disturb the river's natural processes). The rationale for such a move was partly explained by the fact that Croatia was being heavily impacted by having to import sand and gravel from other countries (which also caused a significant increase of sand and gravel prices on the market). It remains to be seen what social and environmental repercussions will have these changes of the law.
Basic Data
NameMassive sediment extraction from the River Drava, Croatia
Province Virovitica–Podravina County, Osijek-Baranja County, Varaždin County
SitePitomača, Petrijevci, Varaždin
Accuracy of LocationLOW country/state level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesSand, gravel
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsAt Petrijevci, more than 3,000,000 m3 of sand was excavated, while it is excavation of 2 million m3 of sediments from Varaždin was planned.
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date2003
Company Names or State EnterprisesHrvatske vode from Croatia - In charge of gravel and sand excavation
Dravski put d.o.o from Croatia - In charge of gravel and sand excavation
Vodogradnja Varaždin from Croatia - Management of the River Drava flow
Relevant government actorsThe Croatian Government
International and Financial InstitutionsEuropean Commission (EC)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersWWF (World Wide Fund for Nature); The Drava League; Euronatur; The Drava Federation from Hungary; Green Action; NGO - Udruga za istraživanje i popularizaciju znanosti Baobab iz Koprivnice.
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFishermen
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of alternative proposals
Public campaigns
Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Referendum other local consultations
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Objections to the EIA
Street protest/marches
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseInstitutional changes
New legislation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Development of AlternativesThe NGOs demand the Croatian Government to enact the moratorium on sediment extraction from the river Drava; the identification of alternative solutions for gravel excavation and river regulation in a parliamentary session with experts and stakeholders; and fulfillment of international conventions and compliance with the EU environmental law. They also pointed out that the ecological and touristic potential of Drava river free flow should be explored instead.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The changes in law are against the request of NGOs to stop any further excavation, as it will legally allow for gravel and sand exploitation in special cases (in order to regulate the river and where excavation activities do not disturb the river's natural processes).
Sources and Materials

Ministerial Declaration Mura-Drava-Danube Trans-boundary Biosphere Reserve
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EU Habitats directive
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EU convention on Biological Diversity
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The Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC)
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Zakon o vodama Republike Hrvatske
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The Birds Directive (79/409/EEC)
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A plan for Conserving and Restoring the Drava
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Dravawatch - NGO report of an observation tour between Murska Središće and Repaš (3 - 4 October 2004)
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The Drava River – a flowing controversy
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''Hrvatske vode štite i pomažu nelegalno iskopavanje šljunka!''
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Campaign on River Drava against its destruction
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Vlasnik tvrtke za iskopavanje šljunka iz Drave fizički napao ekološkog aktivistu
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Iskopavanje šljunka na rijeci Dravi
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Regulacija Drave i iskopavanje šljunka nije u skladu s EU zakonodavstvom
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Gravel extraction and river regulation violates EU law
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Šljunčarenje na rijekama opet postaje legalan biznis u Hrvatskoj
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Media Links

Illegal ravel excavation – VIDEO
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Other Documents

Sand and Gravel excavation at Petrijevci At Petrijevci, 30 km from the mouth of the Danube, Croatian water management and construction firms excavated more than 3,000,000 m³ of sand – without licences, legal documents, or EIA.
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Save Drava protest in 2005 by Green action The slogan reads "Gravel excavation, will kill Drava"
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Meta Information
ContributorJovanka Spiric, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, vankajo(at)
Last update05/03/2016