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

Dam Removal Europe (DRE) is bringing together several organisations with the aim of building a pipeline of removable river barriers in Southeastern European rivers. In Croatia, one of the four pilot countries, Plitvice Lakes National Park and WWF will remove barriers from Bijela Rijeka.

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. 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. 

In order to conserve and protect our rivers, WWF Adria is part of this Dam Removal Europe (DRE) project led by the World Fish Migration Foundation (WFMF). Even though our region is rich with some of the last free-flowing rivers, harmful activities such as barriers building endanger their safety, and by doing so, our safety. 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.

"Croatia is a country rich in rivers and river biodiversity. However, a huge number of existing and planned barriers represent a real danger - not only for our country, but for the entire region. Our goal in Croatia is to remove as many barriers as possible, and we will start from the Plitvice Lakes National Park, where the Park has been working on removing barriers from the Bijela Rijeka for many years", said Matea Jarak from WWF Adria.

"The Park, in cooperation with the WWF, will remove eight existing but non-functional barriers from Bijela Rijeka in the spring, which will ensure its uninterrupted flow and enable the safe migration of an endangered species of freshwater fish - the Danube trout. This will contribute to the preservation of the Plitvice Lakes National Park, which are not only our national treasure, but also a UNESCO heritage", added Kazimir Miculinić from Plitvice Lakes National Park.

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.”

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.

Dam Removal Europe (DRE), led by the World Fish Migration Foundation (WFMF), initiates this Scaling up dam removal: implementation plan for Southeastern (SE) Europe 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 Adria, WWF Netherlands and WWF Slovakia.
© WWF Adria
Bijela rijeka

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