Water Management

Croatia is endowed with a rich and abundant supply of water. This precious resource comes from a number of very different sources: it is fed by such major international rivers as the Sava, Drava and Danube with which are associated large marshes and floodplains and numerous semi-natural carp fishponds which provide a vital source of food and water for local inhabitants; through Karstic region, most of the water tends to flow underground through a complex system of subterranean waterways and channels that run beneath the porous limestone hills; this area is a major source of clean drinking water for the entire country and also has many relatively short yet fast flowing rivers and waterfalls, the most famous is the Plitvice lakes with its series of 16 cascades and unusual travertine formations at the source of the Korana River. Croatia has very few natural lakes, but those that exist such as Vransko Lake near Zadar are still relatively well preserved. Along the Dalmatian coast water becomes somewhat scarcer and is often brackish having been influenced by the sea. A typical example is the vast Neretva Delta which fans out over 200km² into a mosaic of marshes, lagoons and lakes at the mouth of the Neretva River. 

Despite Croatia’s abundance of water bodies, demand on this precious resource is high.

Habitats of European importance in Croatia

Croatia has a wide diversity of different freshwater habitats. They include large international rivers like the Sava, Drava and Danube with their vast floodplain forests, oxbow lakes and tranquil backwaters as well as major wetland complexes like Plitvice lakes and Krka in the karst region.

Croatia’s wetlands are important feeding, breeding and resting places for a wide array of wild animals and plants. Places like Lonjsko Polje, Kopacki Rit, Lower Neretva delta and Crna Mlaka are of global importance in view of their strategic location along major bird migration routes, and the immense numbers of birds that breed or overwinter here. As a result they are also proposed for inclusion in the EU NATURA 2000 Network.


In a NATURA 2000 site, activities must be done in a way that ensures the continued long-term survival of the species and habitat types for which the site is designated. This means that within NATURA 2000 sites: damaging activities are avoided that could significantly disturb the species or deteriorate the habitats for which the site has been selected; positive measures are taken, where necessary, to maintain and restore these habitats and species to a ‘favourable conservation status’ in their natural range. The deliberate capture, killing or collection of the listed wild plants and animals is prohibited unless for specific well justified reasons, such as public health concerns. Activities, such as hunting and fishing, are allowed but must be regulated to ensure that they remain sustainable.

Decisions are best made on a case-by case basis by sitting down with all those who have an interest in the site to agree together on the most appropriate ways to conserve the species and habitats present whilst respecting the local socio-economic context.


In addition to being valuable biodiversity areas, wetlands also perform a whole host of ecological and hydrological functions that benefit humankind. They maintain a constant supply of water by replenishing the groundwater and aquifers on a regular basis, they purify water by removing toxic chemicals, nutrients and other pollutants, they also help mitigate and control floods. Flood events in Europe, for instance, have increased dramatically in recent years largely as a result of poorly conceived river regulation schemes, damage to watersheds and the loss of natural floodplains. The high human and financial costs of these floods bring into sharp focus the significant economic value of maintaining intact fully functioning wetlands for the benefit of humans and biodiversity alike.

Activities related to the restoration of wetland habitats will become an increasingly important part of water management activities. Such projects, besides providing ecosystem protection, have multiple other public benefits for various stakeholders and, as such, can be eligible for funding by European funds or international organisations.

Waters in EU and in Croatia

Water is both a vital economic resource and an essential feature of the natural environment. In the EU, water quality has improved over the last 20 years thanks to strict legislation. Significant advances have also been made in the treatment of sewage and industrial waste. Today most of the population in north-west Europe is connected to sewage treatment plants and over €5 billion has been invested already, through the EU’s Structural Funds, to bring new and acceding EU countries in line.

Good water quality is based not just on the chemical quality of the water but also on the ecological status of surface waters such as rivers and lakes. The latter is especially important as it acknowledges the value of intact freshwater ecosystems and their rich biodiversity.

For further information and examples read our brochure “NATURA 2000 and Water Management in Croatia