Urban rivers: an opportunity to improve the biodiversity of our cities

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Today we celebrate the International Day of Action for Riversa date established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with the aim of advocating for the care and protection of river water bodies as the main sources of clean water and to raise awareness of their value as a natural resource essential for life.

Although rivers constitute a small percentage (less than 0.5%) of fresh surface water, they play an essential role in sustaining life on the planet and for human development, according to data from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Rivers are a key element in the hydrological cycle and are home to enormous biodiversity. They also reduce the risks of droughts and floods, recharge aquifers and serve as a means of river transportation. River systems are among the most dynamic and richest landscapes in the world. They are necessary for human development and provide numerous services to the population, thus improving people’s well-being.

Throughout history, rivers have been determinant for the formation of human settlements of different civilizations and essential for the development of economic activities, allowing the transportation of goods and people and offering recreational, cultural, tourist and mental health benefits.

Despite this, their social and ecological functionality is in a critical situation on a global scale, caused mainly by the rapid expansion of agricultural and urban uses. In addition, the construction of dams, canals and other infrastructure has resulted in the fragmentation of river ecosystems, altering the natural flow of rivers and potentially endangering the species that inhabit these ecosystems.

Rivers are also suffering from plastic pollution. According to UNEP data, an estimated 1,500 tons of microplastics end up in these water bodies each year, endangering human health, the freshwater fishing industry and other water uses such as irrigation or recreational activities.

Finally, the effects of climate change also pose a serious threat to the conservation of river water bodies and their biodiversity. According to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by 2022, the increase of the frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods or major storms, in addition to increased desertification and salinization of aquifers and soils, will produce drastic variations in river flows, which could damage these ecosystems.


The Biodiversity Foundation of the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITECO) has been working for years to protect rivers and river ecosystems through various actions. One of the main contributions is the call for proposals 2021 to the restoration of fluvial ecosystems and flood risk reduction in Spanish urban environments74 million, within the framework of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR), financed by the European Union – NextGenerationEU.

Thus, the following have been implemented 36 projects with actions that aim to contribute to the recovery of groves and riparian forests, the increase of river space, the renaturalization of river beds and plains in urban areas for flood lamination or the elimination of transverse barriers in rivers, among other actions.

The set of selected initiatives includes the application of Nature-based solutions that, in addition to promoting the restoration and enhancement of biodiversity and the environmental values of rivers, contribute significantly to reducing flood risks in their urban sections.

For example, through actions such as the control and management of invasive exotic species, restoration of riverbanks, stabilization of banks or removal of infrastructures, the Caña a la Caña project seeks to promote resilience in the lower basin of the Júcar River in the face of floods and flooding episodes.

For its part, the Cinca Revive initiative works to achieve a substantial and prolonged improvement in the biological quality and morphological conditions of the Cinca River (Huesca) through actions to protect the city from the risk of flooding and to recover wetland and riparian forest areas. The project will connect the urban and rural environments through nature trails and increased green areas.

The objective of ReMiMaGuadaiza is to renaturalize and mitigate the risk of flooding in the surroundings of the Guadaiza River (Marbella) . In addition, it will improve the connectivity of the green infrastructure, communications and mobility of the existing urban centers and the biodiversity and conservation of the riverbed and its banks.

According to the
National Strategy for the Restoration of Rivers (ENRR)
Spain currently has 60% of surface water bodies in good ecological status. The objective for 2030 is to restore and reconnect structurally and functionally 3,000 kilometers of Spanish rivers. This is a challenge to which Fundación Biodiversidad will contribute, beyond the projects within the framework of the PRTR, through ERDF funds and in line not only with the ENRR but also with more global environmental plans, such as the Agenda 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030the European Green Pact and to the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change.