Fântâna Banului Lake has completely dried up

Written by Calin Dejeu

One of the worst ecocides in Romania is the destruction of the Danube Floodplain. Hundreds of kilometres long embankments were built alongside the Danube, mostly in the 60s. This isolated the river from the lakes of the floodplain. Most of these lakes disappeared right away, transformed into tilled land. But some survived, like Fântâna Banului Lake, now included in two Natura 2000 sites: Maglavit (ROSPA0074) and ”Dunărea la Gârla Mare – Maglavit” (ROSCI0299).

Fântâna Banului Lake survived as a wetland, but habitat fragmentation still impacted it. The large embankment, which cut the natural channel connecting the lake with the river, isolated it from the Danube. Furthermore, smaller dykes sectioned the northwest part of the lake into several small water enclosures, transformed into a fish farm. Water pumped from the Danube kept the level high even in the dry summers. Still, the southeast part of the lake, with a scenic island in the middle, retained most of its natural appearance. It also continued to harbour the wide range of species the initial, pristine lake used to harbour.

But lately, the lake was abandoned, the pumps ceased to function, and the water level began to fluctuate. Still, the springs to the east, placed at the edge of the floodplain, draining the groundwater body ”Floodplain and terraces of Danube” (code ROJI06) kept the aquatic habitat alive, even though during droughts the lake had significantly shrunk. But in the severe drought of this summer the lake completely dried up.

Poor management causing ecological disasters

As a parenthesis, EU funds were spent in vain on management plans for the Natura 2000 sites mentioned above. Proper management plans should prevent such ecological disasters in protected areas. 15 years after Romania became an EU member, it should have to implement EU Birds and Habitats Directives. A management plan was elaborated on the project called ”Integrated management of the protected area of community importance ROSPA0074 Maglavit” (project value 525,626 RON), financed from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with ”Butterfly Effect SRL” as beneficiary; another plan was elaborated on the project called ”The management and protection of biodiversity in the community importance protected area Dunărea la Gârla Mare – Maglavit” (project value 1,304,254 RON), financed from the same ERDF, with ”Asociaţia pentru o Românie Deschisă” as beneficiary. Management plans completely failed to prevent this ecological disaster in the two protected areas which overlap over Fântâna Banului Lake.

Fântâna Banului Lake and the Danube in 2016 (L) and in 2020 (R)

And is is far from being a singular case. Notoriously, the precious Taia River, which dried up due to a a small hydropower plant, dried up again, in violation of the final court order of Alba Iulia Court of Appeal. The management plan for the Natura 2000 site ”Grădiștea Muncelului – Cioclovina”, financed from the same ERDF, did not help at all in complying with the judicial decision. The Romanian system of administrating the protected areas, with management plans, is a complete failure. The removal of custodians, leaving the protected areas without any real guardians, completes the stage for general devastation of so-called protected areas.

Habitat fragmentation to blame

The connectivity issue, the fragmentation of aquatic habitats, bears most of the guilt for Fântâna Banului Lake drying up. Climate change has only enhanced the impact. Severe droughts occurred much earlier e.g. one hit the Romanian Plain back in 1947, but Fântâna Banului still retained most of its water. Two issues, essentially connectivity issues, now make the difference for the lake: between the impact of a severe drought in the past, at a natural hydrological regime, and the impact now.

Prior to the embankment along the Danube, the river, united with the lake, covered the floodplain in spring. Plenty of water filled the lake bed, not enough for evaporation at drought to cause its disappearance. Small dykes which split the northwest part of the lake represent the other connectivity issue. These split the former large natural lake into more small water bodies. And small lakes are more vulnerable to drying up than bigger ones; the same is true for small reservoirs.

This ecological disaster is just a part of the huge ecocide that the floodplain embankment in the Romanian stretch of Danube, upstream of the Danube Delta, caused . This is the cause of a historical mistake. Back in 1910, there was a debate between biologist Grigore Antipa and engineer Anghel Saligny on the fate of the Danube Floodplain. Unfortunately the latter, advocating for the floodplain embankment that we see today, won. And things will only get worse. Now, instead of having genuine government programmes to reestablish the Danube Floodplain, people can only find out abouf the historical wrong decision from newspapers.

No real steps have been taken to demolish the embankment and let the Danube flow freely. The government has done nothing to bring back life in the floodplain, which now mostly resembles a semi-desert.

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