Wilderness Network NewsWILDRivers

European rivers threatened by more and more dams

A new report on the effects of damming on European rivers has highlighted how rivers are saturated with dams. Currently, there are already 21 387 dams on the continent, with another 278 under construction. In addition, 8 507 new hydropower plants are planned, with a quarter of them being in nature reserves, especially in the Balkans.

Balkans are the last European region with free-flowing rivers. One of these is Vjosa river in Albania, the last big wild river in Europe. It’s 272 km long, with first 80 km in Greece and the rest in Albania. The river has the best water quality in the country. However, even on this pristine river dams are planned, which would destroy it significantly. Another wild counterpart to Vjosa in the Alps is the Italian Tagliamento river, one of the very few morphologcally intact Alpine rivers.

Unfortunately, few other European rivers are in such a good state as Vjosa. Under EU legislation, all surface water bodies must achieve “good” ecological status by 2027, yet at the moment, only 40% do. One of the main obstacles to achieving this goal are hydropower plants.

The planned hydropower plants are particularly problematic because most of them are small. As a consequence, they cannot produce much electricity, but the ecological damage is nonetheless very high.

Threats to wildlife

Damming the rivers has a strong negative effect on the wildlife. It represents a threat to many fish species, such as salmon, trout or eels. Furhthermore, if the planned hydropower plants on the Balkans are constructed, up to 30 freshwater species might face extinction, some of which, like the Jadova spined loach, are already critically endangered. In fact, this fish species only occurs in 12.5 km long Jadova river, a tributary of Lika river. Therefore, the construction of dams on Lika could have severe consequences for this fish.

While there is an increasing pressure from all sides to use more renewable and green energy, hydropower plants are not the way to go. It is crucial to preserve Europe’s last free-flowing rivers for the wildlife that can only survive there. Equally, good quality of water resources is important for all humans. Therefore, damming the rivers further is not the right response to the current environmental crisis, as while it reduces our impact in energy, it causes even more harm elsewhere.

European Wilderness Society protects last WILDRivers

European Wilderness Society works on recognising and protecting the last free-flowing rivers by designating them as WILDRivers. The WILDRiver network already includes eight rivers and we are always searching for more. In this way, we promote the importance of WILDRivers for Europe.

In addition, the European Wilderness Society together with Slovensky Raj National Park recently organised a river cleaning event. We collected over 400 kg of trash from the Slovakian Hornad river, so that its natural beauty can continue to inspire kayakers and other nature lovers.

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