WWF urges Iceland to establish protected areas in wake of controversial Kárahnjúkar dam decision
The Dark Canyon (Dimmugljufur) of Karahnjukar, the site of the proposed dam in Iceland.
Gland, Switzerland - WWF remains concerned over Iceland’s biggest dam project ever, and calls on the Icelandic government to review the potential impacts of this project on one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in Europe.
The controversial Kárahnjúkar project — involving 3 large dams (the largest being 190 metres high) and a 57km2 reservoir — will supply electricity to an aluminium smelter to be built by Alcoa. It is being built in the East Icelandic highlands and will fundamentally alter the fragile environment of the area. Five hundred nest sites of the rare pink-footed goose will be flooded and Iceland’s only reindeer herd is likely to diminish. Wetlands downstream are also likely to be impacted but according to independent studies, the economic benefits of the project are uncertain
Despite protests from WWF and other NGOs and a ruling from the Icelandic Planning Agency against the dam, the project received the green light from the Icelandic government earlier this year and construction has now begun.
The resulting disturbance was noted by a WWF team visiting the dam site recently. Lorries roar up and down a new road in what was previously a tranquil and undisturbed Arctic landscape. Camps for construction workers near the site to be flooded look like ugly scars and several years of noisy construction work lie ahead before the flooding of the area in 2006.
While the battle to preserve this area from destruction has been lost, WWF, together with its Icelandic partner organisation INCA (Icelandic Nature Conservation Association), is now focusing on achieving protection for the pristine parts of the highlands, including one of the remaining untouched glacial rivers, Jökulsá á Fjöllum. This river also has hydropower potential but another project would cause significant environmental damage to the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park.
Dr Ute Collier, WWF’s Dams Initiative Leader, and Samantha Smith, Director of WWF’s Arctic Programme, met with the Icelandic environment minister, officials of the Icelandic environment agency, and representatives from the the electricity company Landsvirkjun and Alcoa to discuss the potential impacts of the Kárahnjúkar dam project. WWF is urging the Icelandic government to designate a new national park and 2 Ramsar sites, wetlands of international importance, to protect the area of the Eastern Icelandic highlands unaffected by the dam.
“It’s heart-breaking to see how the construction work is already affecting what was previously one of Europe’s last true wilderness area,” said Dr Ute Collier. “But WWF is fighting on to ensure that at least the remainder of this area will be protected from further destructive developments.”
For further information:
Dr Ute Collier
WWF Dams Initiative Leader
Tel.: +44 1483 412549