One step closer to free-flowing rivers: Four countries pave the way for scaling up dam removal in Southeastern Europe

One step closer to free-flowing rivers: Four countries pave the way for scaling up dam removal in Southeastern Europe

  • ΕΛ

Press Release

Scaling up dam removal: implementation plan for Southeastern (SE) Europe is a Dam Removal Europe (DRE) project bringing together several organisations with the aim of building a pipeline of removable river barriers in Southeastern European rivers.

Considering the high ecological potential of the region, Dam Removal Europe (DRE), led by the World Fish Migration Foundation (WFMF), initiates this project with regional partners to focus on expanding the dam removal movement. Funded by the European Open Rivers Programme, a grant-giving organisation dedicated to restoring rivers, the three-year project also counts on the expertise and support from Fauna & Flora, MedINA Greece, Wetlands International (WI), ERN (European Rivers Network), WWF Netherlands, Slovakia, and Adria.

With the main goal of accelerating the dam removal movement in the region, the activities included in the project are expected to generate a wide range of impactful outcomes. To name a few, the project aims to put dam removal on the political agenda while improving legislation to facilitate dam removal projects; create and spread a positive evidence-based narrative in favour of river restoration and dam removal; catalyse opportunities for dam removals in the region and ensure that practitioners have the needed expertise and tools to implement these projects and maximize ecological gains; and increase awareness about dam removal amongst governments, river managers, and the general public, resulting in higher comprehension of dam removal benefits.

Another important aspect of this project focuses on the economic constraints to dam removal, with the objective of identifying and releasing other funding sources for dam removal. All of the above-mentioned outcomes are expected to culminate in the overarching ambition of more obsolete dams being removed in the region and subsequent restoration of biodiverse rivers in Southeast Europe.

“We are delighted to support this ambitious multi-country project that aims to catalyse more dam removal projects across this biodiverse region of Europe”, says Jack Foxall, Executive Director of the European Open Rivers Programme. “By addressing some of the constraints to barrier removal and proactively facilitating the production of new small dam removal initiatives, this project offers the potential to accelerate the dam removal movement in Southeast Europe, helping to restore river flow and protect biodiversity”.

But why dam removal? It has been found that over 1,2 million barriers fragment European rivers, with more than 156,000 being obsolete. Among the several harmful consequences is biodiversity loss, with a decline of 93% in freshwater migratory fish populations in Europe. Dam removal has been increasingly recognised as an effective nature restoration tool – a trend has been confirmed in the last Dam Removal Europe’s annual report, in which the number of reported removed barriers broke the record for the second year in a row.

Additionally, dam failures are becoming a pressing problem, putting in evidence how dams threaten human safety aside from the ecological impact. As these structures reach the end of their lifespan, together with a lack of maintenance and appropriate safety and security plans, the risk of collapse increases. The devastating collapse of two dams in Libya last month or the partial dam burst in Norway during the summer are recent examples of the growing danger of ageing dams. Climate change and extreme weather events, like floods, contribute to a higher risk of obsolete barriers collapsing. Although there are preventive solutions that can partially limit the risk of old dams, the most effective way to avoid collapse is to remove dams.

Building on the enthusiasm generated by the EU Nature Restoration Law and urgency in working harder to achieve EU Biodiversity targets, this project presents itself as a key opportunity to use the growing momentum around dam removal for meaningful change in Southeastern Europe and beyond.

According to Herman Wanningen, the main goal is to “bring new and more dam removal projects to life”. The Director of the World Fish Migration Foundation claimed that this project will “give new practitioners the know-how and confidence to develop dam removal projects and inspire neighbouring countries to join the movement, by replicating good practices”. Moreover, Wanningen hopes that “national legislation and policies are improved in a way that dam removal projects start being facilitated instead of blocked”.

Four pilot countries pave the way – Croatia, Greece, Romania, and Slovakia – but the benefits and outcomes achieved by the project are expected to cross borders and extend to neighbouring countries.

For Nevenka Lukic Rojsek, from WWF Adria, “The project focuses on addressing the specific challenges faced within Croatia. The preservation of vital ecosystems, including the habitat of the Danube trout, is under threat due to habitat fragmentation and invasive species. The project aims to remove these barriers, ensuring river and gene continuity, optimal spawning conditions, and overall ecological improvement in the Bijela Rijeka River. By doing so, we are safeguarding unique species and promoting the long-term sustainability of this pristine environment”.

When it comes to Greece, Alexandra Pappa, MedINA’s Freshwater Programme Manager, clearly states the will and need to turn the tide: “In Greece, it is time to reject the business-as-usual proposals of the past and focus on giving the rivers space to perform their natural functions and recover from years of neglect and fragmentation”.

Also in Romania, despite the country’s incredibly high levels of biodiversity, its freshwater systems face significant pressures. For Iain Trewby, from Fauna & Flora, “This project provides an exciting opportunity to restore ecological connectivity by building support for dam removal, which will enhance biodiversity and improve the functioning of freshwater systems”.

In Slovakia, Martina Paulíková, expresses the ambition to “take dam removal to the next level”. According to the Freshwater Programme Manager at WWF Slovakia, this project will “accelerate the process of smaller obsolete barrier removal by connecting stakeholders and proposing valid improvements to legislation”.

Although the larger part of activities will fall on these four countries, the positive impacts of the project are expected to cross borders and expand to a much wider area. More information can be found on MedINA’s website.

Featured image: Hučava Weir, Slovakia © Rob Kleinjans.

Contacts:

Maria Inês Conceição, maria@fishmigration.org, Comms Lead.

Alexandra Pappa, alexandra@med-ina.org, Greece.

Michaela Domanová, mdomanova@wwfsk.org, Comms, Slovakia.