The European Union and several key Danube organizations are urging countries along the river Danube to prevent "irreversible" damage to the waterway, warning the growing pollution could endanger drinking water for some 80 million people. Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest.

In Johann Strauss's classic waltz, the Danube is blue. But in the real world at the beginning of the 21st century, it is a murky waterway absorbing raw sewage from cities, pesticides and chemicals from farmers' fields, waste from factories and bilge oil from ships.

Key Danube organizations and the European Union are growing increasingly concerned about the future of the EU's longest river, which originates in Germany and flows through 10 countries, before emptying into the Black Sea .

In Budapest, officials have urged all the riparian nations to prevent what they consider as irreversible damage to the river, by urgently tackling pollution.

The Policy Coordinator of the European Commission's Energy and Transport division, Cesare Bernabei, tells VOA that without radical steps to improve the Danube 's ecological system, drinking water supplies of some 80 million people would be in danger.

"You need certainly to regulate all this. We can not still think that water is something that we have (anyway)," he noted. "Everywhere is growing concern about water supply, particularly in this area which is sufficiently densely populated."

Another unresolved issue is the pollution caused by NATO bombardment of Serbia in 1999, according to Milovan Bozinovic, president of the Budapest-based Danube Commission, which promotes free navigation on the river. He says chemicals released from bombed-out factories are still polluting the river.

"Part of the (current) pollution is the consequence of bombing these plants, without any taking in consideration the consequences for the countries after Serbia in the lower Danube (area). In Bulgaria , in Romania and the Black Sea," he said.

Adding to the pollution is a rapid growth of shipping on the Danube. EU figures show, with most of the countries along the Danube belonging to the European Union, water transport may double within 10 years.

The officials agree using modern shipping technology and curbing industrial pollution will help to restore the Danube's ecosystem. But they warn that effort would be hampered by changes in the water flow aimed at flood control and power generation.

Philip Weller is executive secretary of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River.

"Human activities have tried to constrict and constraint the river, and it's clear that this strategy has lead to ecological problems and increased flooding," he said.

But Weller says he has not given up hope that the Danube will one day, be blue again.