The Oder river flood in Summer 1997 from the perspective of the State of Brandenburg

Hartmut Niesche
Ministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Raumordnung Brandenburg, Abt. Gewässerschutz, Schloßstr. 1, 14467 Potsdam, Germany.
Tel.: +49-331-866 7322, Fax: +49-331-866 7243

In the summer of 1997, 250 years after the initial draining of the Oderbruch, the areas along the Oder river, in Poland, the Czech Republic and the state of Brandenburg, Germany, suffered the worst flooding since water levels have first been recorded. Two high intensity rainfall events in the Oder upper catchment basin, lasting from the 03.07.97 to the 09.07.97, and from the 18.07.97 to the 22.07.97, with a total downpour volume of 10 billion cubic meters of water, resulted in extreme levels of water flow and a catastrophic situation in the Czech Republic and Poland. Even along the 170 km- long stretch of waterway in Brandenburg an extended period of unprecedented high water levels was experienced. In this way, the affected dikes had to cope with pressure levels that were higher in water-level terms and of greater duration than had been anticipated for this 100-year water flow record. Dike failure and flooding were also experienced on the German side of the border. However, thanks to the prudent intervention of government authorities and the selfless assistance of many volunteers, the effects of the floodwaters were able to be minimised, and the occurrence of further dike failures could be prevented. An advance warning of the impending disaster had already originated at the time the catastrophic events struck further upstream in Poland and the Czech Republic. The state of Brandenburg had thus had ten days before the arrival of the oncoming floodwaters in which preparations could be made to minimise the damage, as far as this was possible in the disastrous situation. Even so, predicting the potential volume of flow was made more difficult because of an interruption in the recording of water-levels in the Polish upper catchment area and the flooding of the information office in Breslau. A working group on the subject of floodwaters was put together by the International Commission for the Protection of the Oder. Its aims are to design an action plan on the theme of ‘floodwaters’, in cooperation with hydrological and meteorological organisations, to devise a high-tech, state-of-the-art floodwater warning system, and develop a means of floodwater forecasting.