BAB 028/19: Integrated Flood Risk Management in Mountain Areas

Assessing Sectoral Interdependencies, Conflicts and Options for Policy Coordination

Initial situation

Since 1980, Europe has been affected by around 700 damaging flood events, causing over 3,800 fatalities and economic damages of USD 187 billion (Mu-nich Re 2017). Due to their topographical and climatic conditions, alpine regions are particularly at risk. The influence of climate change on the hydrological cycle (an increase in temperatures and the snow line is expected) will lead to a further increase in the frequency and intensity of flood events (APPC 2014; Gobiet et al. 2014). In particular, the high concentration of high-value land uses in alpine valleys makes them very vulnerable to increasing flood risk and other related hazards (Petraschek and Kienholz 2003; Fuchs et al. 2015). Recent flood events in Europe have led to a rethinking of flood protection policy from pure flood protection measures to an integrated approach of flood risk management, which aims to minimise the intensity of floods but also to improve the sensitivity of floodplains.


The PoCo-FLOOD project investigates the challenges and obstacles of sectoral policy coordination arising from the current paradigm shift in flood policy from flood protection to integrated flood risk management (IFRM). The project will analyse mutual dependencies, conflicts and options for policy coordination between the sectors of flood protection, hydropower (energy), agriculture and spatial planning. Specific objectives: (i) a better understanding of the sectoral interdependencies arising from the new paradigm of Integrated Flood Risk Management; (ii) the creation of a knowledge and evidence base on the possibilities and limits of policy coordination as well as the conflicts of interest that stand in the way of a more coherent flood policy; (iii) to develop options for a sectorally coordinated flood policy together with stakeholders and policy representatives. The project addresses these objectives through a combined research approach based on interdisciplinary research and the engagement of decision-makers and stakeholders (transdisciplinarity).

The work of the Federal Institute of Agricultural Economics and Mountain Farming was carried out within the framework of the project "Poco-FLOOD Integrated Flood Risk Management in Mountain Areas: Assessing Sectoral Interdependencies, Conflicts and Options for Policy Coordination", financed by the Austrian Academy of Sciences and coordinated by the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences. The objectives of the sub-area "Interaction Field of Agriculture" were to present and analyse

  • the spatial dimensions and the differentiated sensitivity and importance of agricultural areas with regard to flood events (by means of GIS analyses),
  • the legal framework and instruments in the field of agriculture and flood risk management (by means of literature research),
  • the processes, roles and nature of stakeholder involvement in the implementation of flood protection projects (by means of expert interviews).

The aim was to raise awareness and understanding between the agricultural and flood management sectors and to identify options for improved interaction.

Detailed analyses of agricultural uses in flood risk areas showed that in Austria about 246,000 ha (=7.7% of the agricultural areas recorded in INVEKOS) are located within the flood risk area, of which e.g. 57,200 ha are used as intensive grassland, 36,000 ha are cultivated with forage maize and 25,000 ha with winter soft wheat. If only the Alpine Convention area is considered, 104,000 ha of the INVEKOS areas are located in flood risk areas, the utilisation shares shift towards grassland and forage use according to the natural conditions. Depending on the type of use, the economic impact of agricultural holdings in the event of floods varies greatly - this is easily seen, for example, if one compares the standardoutput-coefficient of grain maize (EURO 1,640/ha/year) with that of double-cropped meadows (€340/ha/year) (according to GS-OK Kärnten 2020). Overlaying the flood risk areas with areas of particular importance for regional food security (from the BEAT project) shows that the impact of flood events on agriculture is above average, especially in mountain areas, since high-quality agricultural land is mainly located in valley floor areas.

The legal framework in the area of flood management shows a variety of binding requirements and instruments on the part of flood management at all levels (flood directive at EU level to water law permits at local level). In the requirements of protective water management, agricultural areas are seen as retention areas to protect higher-value uses with greater damage potential; agricultural areas themselves are not to be protected from floods. On the agricultural side, the Agriculture Act and the CAP are relevant. Within the framework of the CAP, there are support measures for types of management that can mitigate flood risk to a certain extent - these are continuously coordinated with the National Flood Risk Management Plan (RMP). Land for certain flood protection projects is secured at the level of private law contracts in which landowners represent their personal interests. The social interest in preserving agricultural land is not part of the process. The Austrian Agriculture Act is hardly effective in protecting agricultural land from conversion, as it does not offer specific instruments for land protection. Indirectly, this is possible through instruments of spatial planning and water management, but very differently regulated and little used. The trend is towards integrated flood risk management and the involvement of all relevant actors in order to find the best possible solution in a watercourse section or catchment area. The new instrument of protective water management that is obligatory in the course of a flood protection project - the watercourse development and risk management concept (GE-RM) - offers potential for the integration of agricultural interests.

Interviews with stakeholders and experts in the field of flood agriculture highlight points of conflict between the agricultural and flood risk management sectors. Different interests, lack of communication and coordination, loss of land for agriculture, lack of transparency in compensation, lack of balance between upstream and downstream riparians and activities of resistance groups are perceived as particularly problematic.  

The most important findings of the present work are therefore that, from the perspective of agricultural stakeholders, it is necessary to strengthen the role of agriculture and the awareness of the different importance of agricultural land for farms and food security within the framework of existing instruments in water management and spatial planning, to improve communication and coordination in flood management processes, to enable fair compensation between upstream and downstream riparians, and to create attractive conditions for agricultural landowners that enable sustainable management.

In order to disseminate the achieved research results accordingly, various presentations and publications with interim results were written in the course of the project. The summarised final results are expected to be published in a joint publication with the project partners in early 2023, as well as the specific results on the agricultural part in a BAB publication series.

A summary publication on the overall results of the project in Geosphere Austria, Abhandlungen Volume 277, 2023, is available at the following link:


Presentations, publications to date:

Löschner, L., Hernegger, M., Hohensinner, S., Lebiedzinski, K., Niedermayr, J., Nordbeck, R., Seher, W., Wagner, K., Wesemann, J. (2019): Flood risk management in mountain regions: a policy coordination perspective. EGU General Assembly. Vienna.

Wagner, K. (2020): Flood Retention and Impacts on Agriculture in Austria. Paper presentation at 1st IALE-Russia online international conference Landscape Science and Landscape Ecology: Considering Responses to Golbal Challenges. 14-18 September 2020, Moscow.

Grüneis, H., Schroll, K., Wagner, K. (2021): Landwirtschaft und Hochwasserrisikomanagement. Bundesanstalt für Agrarwirtschaft und Bergbauernfragen. Fact Sheet 001. 01.2021. Wien.

Grüneis, H., Schroll, K., Wagner, K. (2021): The Role of Agriculture in Flood Risk Management in Austria - Conflicts and Challenges. In: Journal of Environmental Science and Engineering B. Volume 10, Number 3, May-June 2021 (Serial Number 90). David Publishing Company.

Junger, L., Hohensinner, S., Schroll, K., Seher, W., Wagner, K. (2022): Land Use in Flood-Prone Areas and Its Significance for Flood Risk Management—A Case Study of Alpine Regions in Austria. In: Land 11(3):392 DOI: 10.3390/land11030392.

Schroll, K. (2022): Flood Storage on Agricultural Land in Austria – Integrated Flood Risk Management in Mountain Areas: Policy instruments. Presentation at PESCRL (Permanent European Conference for the Study of the Rural Landscapes) conference – Living together in European Rural Landscapes. 26. September – 2. Oktober 2022, Jaén und Baeza, Spain.

WAGNER, K. (2022): Interrelations of Flood Risk Management and Agriculture in Austrian Alpine Regions. Presentation at Global Mountain Sustainability Forum, EURAC, 3.- 4.10.2022, online.

Nordbeck, R.; Seher, W.; Grüneis, H.; Herrnegger, M. und Junger, L. (2023) Conflicting and complementary policy goals as sectoral integration challenge: an analysis of sectoral interplay in flood risk management. Policy Sciences (2023).

Grüneis, H., Niedermayr, J., Schroll, K., Wagner, K., Hohensinner, S., Herrnegger, M., Stecher, G., Lebiedzinski, K., Seher, W., Junger, L., Löschner, L. und Nordbeck, R. (2023) Integriertes Hochwasserrisikomanagement in Berggebieten: Sektorale Interdependenzen, Konflikte und Möglichkeiten der Politikkoordination (PoCo-FLOOD). In: Elster, D. (Hrsg.), Helfricht, K. (Hrsg.) & Seher, W. (Hrsg.): Wasser in Gebirgsräumen – Disaster Risk Management: Transdisziplinäre Studien aus Österreich. – Abhandlungen der GeoSphere Austria, 77, 81–129, Wien.

Project start: March 2019
End of project: December 2022

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Project Status


Project Leader



Mountain Areas Research and Regional Development


GRUENEIS, Heidelinde Heidelinde GRUENEIS

Mountain Areas Research and Regional Development

Agricultural, Environmental and Food Systems

Mountain Areas Research and Regional Development


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