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Polish court revives ‘highly flawed’ hydroelectric dam plan for Vistula River | Rivers

The development of a €1bn (£850m) dam on the Vistula River is one step nearer to getting the inexperienced gentle in Poland, regardless of warnings that it might devastate uncommon wildlife habitats.

The Vistula runs greater than 620 miles from the Carpathian mountains, passing by way of main cities earlier than flowing into the Baltic sea. The state-owned firm Polish Waters intends to construct a dam over the river’s predominant channel at Siarzewo, north west of Warsaw, with the first intention of making hydroelectric energy in addition to flood safety, water administration and navigation.

Discussions about constructing a dam at Siarzewo have been occurring for a number of years. In August, the plans for the dam had been rejected by the Polish setting ministry after a coalition of NGOs warned it might injury one in every of Europe’s largest rivers, with irreversible impacts for wildlife and folks.

Nonetheless, in October that call was reversed after a profitable court attraction by Polish Waters. The provincial administrative court has given consent for “instant implementation” of the dam.

The Siarzewo dam is taken into account a key element of the E40, a 1,240-mile worldwide waterway that can hyperlink the Baltic and Black seas, working by way of the Chernobyl exclusion zone the place dredging began final yr. The waterway would dissect Polesia, a big wild space of japanese Europe often called Europe’s Amazon.

Planned route of the E40 waterway

The dam would instantly have an effect on a number of EU designated wildlife websites downstream of the dam, together with Włocławska Vistula valley, Nieszawska Vistula valley and decrease Vistula valley, campaigners and scientists have warned. These reserves – which cowl an space of 420 sq. kilometres – are Natura 2000 websites, that means they defend the continent’s rarest and most threatened species, together with the European fire-bellied toad, the massive copper butterfly and European river lamprey.

The little tern, for instance, is listed as susceptible in Poland and 83% of its inhabitants nests within the Vistula valley. Human interventions on river programs are a big driver of its decline. The proposed website of the dam can be a key spawning floor for critically endangered Baltic sturgeon.

“That interprets into important loss to populations of precedence habitats and species beneath the Habitats Directive, together with riverine forests,” mentioned Dr Przemysław Chylarecki from the Polish Academy of Sciences. “In such a case the consent may be granted solely whether it is justified by causes of overriding public curiosity. This isn’t the case for Siarzewo. Not one of the declared causes for constructing the dam may be categorised as having overriding public curiosity.”

Authorized analysis from WWF Poland has proven that constructing the dam would violate the EU’s Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive. In August, the European Fee mentioned the mission did not currently comply with EU regulation.

An aerial view of the Vistula river, one of the longest rivers in Europe.
An aerial view of the Vistula River, one of many longest rivers in Europe. {Photograph}: Lukasz Szczepanski/Alamy

“All unbiased environmental NGOs in Poland protested towards the Siarzewo dam building,” mentioned Andrzej Mikulski, a hydrobiologist from Warsaw College. “Environmental consent for Siarzewo dam is very flawed for the easy motive that the excessive adverse impression of the deliberate dam on the setting is sort of apparent and that this impression shouldn’t be outweighed by the attainable advantages. For a number of many years, the Polish scientific neighborhood has emphasised this many instances.”

The center and decrease components of the Vistula are in a pure state – aside from one dam in Włocławek – with excessive ranges of biodiversity because of a pure riverbed, floodplain and dynamic association of banks and channels. The dam would flip “a number of dozen kilometres of the Vistula right into a extremely eutrophic lake”, degrading the river and valley beneath the dam, and in addition making the reintroduction of migratory fish “very tough or inconceivable”, in accordance with Mikulski.

A 2019 report discovered {that a} new technology of hydroelectric dams are threatening Europe’s rivers, fuelling the steep decline of freshwater fish equivalent to salmon, trout and eels, in accordance with the primary stock of Europe’s hydropower crops by RiverWatch. The European Environment Agency has discovered dams and reservoirs are linked to elevated coastal erosion and flooding elsewhere.

A spokesperson for Poland’s Ministry of Local weather and the Atmosphere mentioned it had not but obtained the ultimate judgment on the dam’s building and that the information relating to the provincial administrative court resolution haven’t but been returned. “Till the proceedings are resolved, it might be all too quickly to touch upon the case,” the spokesperson mentioned.

The little tern is listed as vulnerable in Poland; 83% of its population nests in the Vistula valley.
The little tern is listed as susceptible in Poland; 83% of its inhabitants nests within the Vistula valley. {Photograph}: AGAMI Photograph Company/Alamy

A spokesperson for Polish Waters mentioned the Siarzewo dam is critical to guard human well being, the well being of the economic system and is a crucial a part of flood safety and infrastructure. They added that the mission is in maintaining and in accordance with Polish regulation and EU regulation, the Habitats Directive and Water Framework Directive, and practically 100 specialists in varied fields had labored on the event, together with engineers and pure scientists.

Polish Waters disputes that the development can be dangerous for wildlife or the pure setting. “The outcomes had been collected and developed utilizing essentially the most trendy strategies and methods obtainable … We want to add that it’s unfaithful that every one environmental organisations are towards the implementation of the Siarzewo dam,” the spokesperson mentioned.

Discover extra age of extinction protection right here, and observe biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the most recent information and options

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