Last year, at least 239 barriers, dams and weirs were removed from European rivers, a record for Europe, especially given that 69 dams had been removed in 2020. The Dam Removal Coalition - a group of seven environmental organisations including the World Fish Migration Foundation, WWF, the Rivers Trust and Rewilding Europe - brought about the change in hopes to restore threatened river species in Europe.
Spain contributed the most, removing 108 dams last year, one of which was the Anllarinos dam of 13 metres, the tallest one removed last year. According to Pao Fernandez Garrido, World Fish Migration Foundation project manager, who also contributed to the Dam Removal Coalition’s annual report states ‘An increasing number of governments, NGOs, companies and communities are understanding the importance of halting and reversing nature loss, and buying into the fact that dam removal is a river-restoration tool.’
Roughly, there are currently 1 million barriers which are 0.7 barriers for every kilometre of a river within Europe. Most of these dams and weirs in Europe are over a century old and are currently unused, obsolete and provide no economic purpose. These obsolete dams are causing the damage and are what the Coalition wants to remove.
These stagnant dams are what are causing the most damage. Dams block fish migration routes, which leads to loss of breeding areas, and overall reduces the number of species of European river species such as trout, eel and salmon. It affects the wider areas biodiversity such as eagles and otters who rely on these fish to live.
Pao Fernandez Garrido also discussed the additional risks to the environment dams have: ‘Dams affect water quality and underground water levels, cause channel and coastal erosion and beach disappearances, generate greenhouse gas emissions…Dams have a negative impact on the environment, so if a dam or weir isn’t strictly necessary any more, we mustn’t pass the burden to future generations.’
The latest reports from the Dam Removal Coalition found that 76% of the removals were small dams and weirs, but 24% were dams higher than 2 metres. In Finland, a functioning hydropower dam is also being dismantled, the first of three on the Hiitolanjoki River, and when the dismantling is fully completed is expected to allow landlocked salmon to return to spawning grounds. As well as, in a record breaking first Portugal, Slovakia and Montenegro recorded their first-ever dam removals in 2021.
With the continuing climate crisis and dramatic declines in fresh-water fish populations, the Dam Removal Coalition’s efforts certainly seem to be assisting and improving the local freshwater environment of Europe.
Image Credit: Nature
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