We use rivers for many reasons, they provide us with water, food and a mode of transport. Over the last centuries, we also figured out ways to generate power from rivers. What started with old-fashioned waterwheels, developed into modern hydro-electric plants that generate power embedded in dams. Although hundreds of thousands of households can benefit from this energy supply, the environment is suffering.
Ecological cascades of dammed rivers
Dams form a barrier for flora and fauna, which are depending on the river. In some cases 70 to 80 percent of the local biodiversity is depending on the river. When river flows decrease after the dam, this impacts the landscape drastically. Former wetlands and riverbeds will dry out and change entire ecosystems. The dammed river not only affects fish, but also crustaceans, amphibians, birds and mammals directly. River connectivity is disrupted, spawning grounds may disappear and drinking places evaporate over time.
Dam removal is a key
In many cases, dams are old and unused. The initiative Dam Removal Europe promotes, lists and takes efforts to open up unused dams, in order to give nature a second chance.
The amount of really free flowing wild rivers in Europe is unbelievably limited, it is less than 1%. – J. van Herk Dam Removal Europe
Different countries, different strategies
While countries like Spain, Sweden, England and Finland have already removed thousands of dams together, there are still more than 1 million dams blocking the European rivers. And also outside of Europe, we find great examples how dam removal restores nature along free flowing rivers. The largest dam removal in the United States turned the Elwha River into a new home for many species. Salmons are returning, crab populations grow and the number of birds doubled. Despite the efforts of these countries, others are doing exactly the opposite. Romania recently announced to continue the damming of the Jiu River, one of the last free flowing rivers in the Carpathian Mountains. Also Albania nd other Balkan countries with the assistance of European Hydropower Companies are planning dam constructions that will inevitably damage the river and riparian ecosystem around it.
We help and protect the last parts of free flowing WILDRivers of Europe as part of the European Wilderness Network. This includes part of the Belá WILDRiver in Slovakia, WILDRivers in Uholka-Shyrokyy Luh Wilderness of Ukraine, Stara Reka WILDRiver embedded in the Central Balkan Wilderness and more potential candidates like the Tagliamento in Italy.