The ancillary rowing channel in Plovdiv – latest news (Sept. 5, 2013)

April 1, 2014

On 3 Sept. Plovdiv was approved to host the World Rowing Championship in 2018 and the World Rowing Championship for juniors up to 23 years in 2015, at the annual Congress of the International Rowing Federation (FISA) during the World Cup in South Korea.

An agreement between the Bulgarian Rowing Federation, Plovdiv Municipality and the Organizing Committee is expected to be signed soon by the President of the Bulgarian Rowing Federation Emil Matev, Mayor Ivan Totev and the Chairman of the Organizing Committee Ivan Popov.

City authorities consider rowing a priority and dream of establishing the city as a leading international rowing center. However, international competitions require building an ancillary rowing channel.

The project is estimated at over 12 million leva and obviously the second channel must be built by the end of 2014. The close proximity of the facility to the Maritsa river and the protected natural area along the banks of the river have raised a public discussion “for” and “against”. The area of 10 hectares for building the ancillary channel is within the flooding plain of the Maritsa, which is a protected natural reserve and part of the European network Natura 2000.

The proposed solution

As a compensatory measure the project envisages the creation of a nature park “Eco Maritza” by restoring the floodplain terrace on about 100 hectares of three habitat types: freshwater, floodplain forests and lowland forests. Restoration of affected habitats is a rare example in the world particularly on such a large scale. 

The goals are set as follows:

  • Increased public awareness of the territory – the restored area is expected to play the role of a natural botanic garden
  • Environmental restoration of natural forest habitats – floodplain and lowland forests – along the river
  • Restoration of lake habitats and communities of water vegetation of high conservation value
  • Restoration of nesting habitat for rare European colonial nesting birds (herons, cormorants, terns)
  • Achieving efficient and environmentally friendly management of the water resources

The city authorities support the project

Mayor Ivan Totev announced Plovdiv’s bid to host the World Rowing Championships a year ago and in July the municipal council voted 640,000 euro for the promotion of the candidacy of the city during the next five years. The organizing committee includes world champion Svetla Otsetova , two-term president of the Bulgarian Rowing Federation, currently Technical Director of FISA, and Ivan Popov, former Deputy Chairman of the Bulgarian Rowing Federation. Plovdiv urban planning authorities are soon expected to adopt a Detailed Urban Plan (“Podroben Ustroistven Plan” – PUP) of the area of the channel.

The existing rowing channel and the new project

The beautiful rowing channel next to the Maritsa River was built in the 1980s. With a length of 2,200 meters, width of 120 meters wide and three meters depth it is one of the largest in Europe and according to rowers – one of the best, because of its ground level and lack of strong winds.

The construction of the channel had serious objections from nature-conscious people in Plovdiv at the time because of the felling of many trees. Commitments for compensatory forestation by the communist authorities at the time have never been met.

International rowing events today require an additional channel for warming and rapid succession of races. The two channels are connected at the start and the finish, so that those who prepare and those that have finished a race do not interfere.

Added value

The first benefit from the project is for sports tourism and the opportunities for rowing and other water sports entertainment.

International events such as World Cups and Championships have always led to a significant number of visitors and hence income for the host city and local business.

A recent example: the World Rowing Championship for juniors and men and women – non-Olympic disciplines from 14 to 20 August 2012 brought together more than 1,200 athletes from 58 countries in 7 days. Only athletes were accommodated in 17 hotels in Plovdiv and the region and provided a record 100% occupancy of hotels for a month.

That’s not all – more than 1,000 foreign guests came to Plovdiv – relatives of the rowers and fans and 60 accredited journalists. All were welcome in hotels, restaurants, shops and taxis in the city. It is not hard to calculate the benefits for tourism and related downstream businesses.

The other valuable benefit from the project for local people and tourists will be

the restored natural habitat.

Not everyone knows that following the last glacial period 6,000 years ago on the territory of the present Thracian Valley developed a rich habitats forest and animal eco-system, which some scientists call the “Great Bulgarian Forest”. However, the need of wood for heating, agriculture and livestock led to the recent disappearance of significant areas of the forest. It is assumed that at the end of the 18th century, 60% of the area was covered with forest. Old maps show forest cover of 30% as late as the 1920s. The river bed was constantly moving which maintained species-rich forest communities in the floodplains.

50-60 years ago the river was “shackled” by dykes, which is one of the reasons for the sudden loss of habitats and species. Maritsa is one of the last “shackled” rivers in Europe large and noisy bird colonies on islands in the river are still alive in older peoples’ memories. Unfortunately, species such as the white ibis and the spoonbill are not part of the local fauna for more than 50 years. The return of extinct birds is just one of the remarkable results expected from this project.

Our point of view

Since the creation of the Fund we have looked with great interest at the Plovdiv rowing channel realizing that this is one of the best urban projects in Bulgaria.

The likelihood of the Fund’s funding for the project now depends mainly on three factors:

  1. Convincing business plan and organization of the management of the channel and the eco- park
  2. Detailed urban plan that includes the territory of the new park and a favorable opinion from a nature protecting organization with proven experience and an impeccable reputation
  3. Swiftness. The newly adopted integrated urban plan does not include the territory of the rowing channel, and our rules of operation do not allow us to fund projects outside the plan after the end of 2013

The project for ancilliary rowing canal comprises a lot of extra facilities Date: Sept. 5, 2013