Belá WILDRiver under Threat

In the summer of 2018, Belá WILDRiver was removed from the European Wilderness Network. See why here

It is impossible to overlook the intensity and extent of excavations with heavy machines in the Bela river, Slovakia. The European Wilderness Society is concerned that this is also happening on the tributaries of the river. Particularly in the Tichá and Kôprová Valleys, inside the strictly protected zone of the Tatra National Park. “The concern is so great that the European Wilderness Society launched a process to remove the Belá WILDRiver from the European Wilderness Network”, said the Deputy Chairman of the European Wilderness Society.

Constructions in the Belá WILDRiver

The 16 km of Belá WILDRiver were subject of a European Wilderness Society Quick-Audit in summer 2017 and met the Bronze Wilderness Quality Standard. Auditors were already concerned about the ongoing extractive uses back then. Particular fishing in the lower part of river. However, the current situation is beyond any limits. Heavy machinery, like caterpillars, working in the river bed of this last wild river in Slovakia is simply not acceptable. The undevelopedness, undisturbedness as well as the naturalness of the river are under extreme threat. This puts the question if the Belá River should be excluded from the European Wilderness Network on the desk of the European Wilderness Society Advisory Committee.

The Belá WILDRiver is part of the 22 km long Belá River and is partially embedded in the Tatra National Park. Long periodes of high temperatures interrupted by extremely heavy storms and rainfall characterised this summer of 2018. These heavy rainfalls caused sudden swells of the water level leading to cut banks and the development of new river beds. Such dynamic processes are typical for a wild mountain river such as the Belá WILDRiver. Changing water levels and floods leading to sediment deposits and changing river beds are part of natural river morphodynamics. These natural dynamic processes of changing river beds are essential for a long-term natural flood protection.

Destructions in the name of flood prevention

Despite of the high value of the Belá River the Slovakian water management company- the administration of the Upper Váh River Basin – started constructions with heavy machinery only several weeks after the floods. They entered the river and started cleaning the river bed, piling gravel, cutting banks and removing trees. All of these activities are in line with the official Slovakian water management company policy. The objective of this activities were to implement legislative measures to prevent further floods. Marián Bocák, spokeswoman of the Slovakian water management company told a local newspaper:

“….we only perform the necessary interventions to ensure the functioning of the river bed, to prevent further flood damage, to ensure a smooth flow of water and to remove obstacles from the river bed.”

Bela WILDRIver © Thomas Kalisky
Bela WILDRIver prior the destruction © Thomas Kalisky

Local opinions about the activities on the Belá River

The following statements were translated from a local Slovakian newspaper:

Erik Baláž, Chairman of the Management Board Foundation Aevis, said,

“Legislation is giving the river managers the mandate to do certain activities, but excavators and bulldozer damage the water ecosystems long term.”

The director of the Tatra National Park Administration Pavol Majko told the newspaper,

“The management of the National Park is a member of the flood crisis management group. But we were only briefly informed about what was going to happen on the Belá River. The river did not deserve this. Fish and other species of European importance have been thrown on shore… The scope of work, was too technocratic, without a sensitive approach to the aquatic ecosystem. The riverbed has been modified in some places so that water toboggans were created, which only accelerate the flow speed. And all this was done long after the flood, when the flood was already gone for a couple of weeks.”

Scientists and experts from the Slovak Limnological Society and Slovak Ichthyological Society wrote that,

“The Belá is the only wild meandering river in Slovakia, and the river is a subject of research and monitoring already for decades. The uniqueness of this river is its diversity of habitat and species, whose existence depend on the permanent transport of sediments and the change of the river bed due to the dynamic water flow”

What will happen to the Belá WILDRiver

The European Wilderness Society together with the European Wilderness Society Advisory Committee is currently discussing and reviewing the certification of the Belá River as a WILDRiver.

“Cleaning a river after heavy storms and floods in such a way is not acceptable. It is a shame that the people not fully appreciate the treasure they have. A natural meandering river is the best long term flood prevention anyone can hope for. In Austria we are restoring rivers to their meandering state and in Slovakia the exact opposite is happening. We are now in the process to re-evaluate the situation of Belá river and their membership in the European Wilderness Network. We will announce the result soon,”

said the Chairman of the European Wilderness Society.

The pictures in this post have been contributed by Mr. Paca and Mr. Kalisky.

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