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Polish court relaunches ‘highly imperfect’ hydroelectric dam project for the Vistula | Rivers

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The construction of a € 1 billion (£ 850 million) dam on the Vistula is one more step towards getting the green light in Poland, despite warnings that it could devastate rare wildlife habitats.

The Vistula extends over 620 miles from the Carpathian Mountains, passing through major cities before emptying into the Baltic Sea. Crown corporation Polish waters intends to build a dam on the main river channel in Siarzewo, northwest of Warsaw, with the main purpose of creating hydroelectric power as well as flood protection, water management and navigation.

Discussions on the construction of a dam in Siarzewo have been going on for several years. In August, the plans for the dam were rejected by the Polish Ministry of the Environment after a coalition of NGOs warned it would damage one of Europe’s largest rivers, with irreversible impacts on wildlife and humans.

However, in October that decision was overturned after a successful legal appeal by Polish Waters. the provincial administrative court a consent given for the “immediate implementation” of the dam.

The Siarzewo Dam is considered a key part of the E40, a 1,240 mile international waterway that will connect the Baltic and Black Seas, crossing the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone where dredging began last year. The waterway would dissect Polesia, a vast wilderness area in Eastern Europe known as the European Amazon.

Planned route of the E40 waterway

The dam would directly affect several EU-designated wildlife sites downstream of the dam, including the WÅ‚ocÅ‚awska Vistula Valley, Nieszawska Vistula Valley and Lower Vistula Valley, activists and scientists have warned. These reserves – which cover an area of ​​420 square kilometers – are Natura 2000 sites, meaning they protect the continent’s rarest and most endangered species, including the fire-bellied toad, the large copper butterfly and the European lamprey.

The Little Tern, for example, is classified as Vulnerable in Poland and 83% of its population breeds in the Vistula Valley. Human interventions on river systems are an important factor in its decline. The proposed dam site is also a key spawning ground for critically endangered Baltic sturgeon.

“This results in a significant loss of populations of priority habitats and species in the Habitats Directiveincluding riparian forests, ”said Dr PrzemysÅ‚aw Chylarecki from the Polish Academy of Sciences. “In such a case, consent can only be granted if it is justified on grounds of overriding public interest. This is not the case for Siarzewo. None of the reasons given for the construction of the dam can be qualified as an overriding public interest.

Legal To analyse of WWF Poland showed that the construction of the dam would violate the European Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive. In August, the European Commission declared that the project is not currently complying with EU law.

An aerial view of the Vistula, one of the longest rivers in Europe. Photograph: Lukasz Szczepanski / Alamy

“All independent environmental NGOs in Poland protested against the construction of the Siarzewo dam,” said Andrzej Mikulski, hydrobiologist at the University of Warsaw. “The environmental consent for the Siarzewo dam is very imperfect for the simple reason that the high negative impact of the planned dam on the environment is quite obvious and this impact is not outweighed by the possible benefits. For several decades, the Polish scientific community has repeatedly emphasized this.

The middle and lower parts of the Vistula are in a natural state – with the exception of a dam in WÅ‚ocÅ‚awek – with high levels of biodiversity thanks to a natural river bed, a floodplain and a dynamic arrangement of the banks and rivers. canals. The dam would transform “several tens of kilometers of the Vistula into a highly eutrophic lake”, degrading the river and the valley downstream from the dam, and also making the reintroduction of migrating fish “very difficult if not impossible”, according to Mikulski.

A 2019 report found that a new generation of hydroelectric dams threaten Europe’s rivers, fueling the sharp decline of freshwater fish such as salmon, trout and eels, according to Europe’s first inventory of hydroelectric plants by RiverWatch. the European Environment Agency found that dams and reservoirs are linked to increased coastal erosion and flooding elsewhere.

A spokesperson for the Polish Ministry of Climate and Environment said it had not yet received the final judgment on the construction of the dam and that the files regarding the decision of the provincial administrative court had not yet been released. rendered. “Until the proceedings are resolved, it would be too early to comment on the matter,” the spokesperson said.

The little tern is listed as vulnerable in Poland;  83% of its population nests in the Vistula Valley.
The little tern is listed as vulnerable in Poland; 83% of its population nests in the Vistula Valley. Photograph: AGAMI Photo Agency / Alamy

A Polish Waters spokesperson said that the Siarzewo dam is necessary to protect human health, the health of the economy and is an important part of flood protection and infrastructure. They added that the project complied with Polish and EU law, the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive, and nearly 100 specialists in various fields had worked on the development. , including engineers and natural scientists.

Polish Waters denies that the construction will be bad for wildlife or the natural environment. “The results were collected and developed using the most modern methods and techniques available… We would like to add that it is wrong that all environmental organizations are against the implementation of the Siarzewo dam,” the spokesperson said. .

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