Efforts to stop ecological damage from new hydropower projects must continue
Last year the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) adopted guidelines for reducing the ecological damage of new hydropower projects. The guidelines will also be taken into consideration for the 2nd Danube River Basin Management Plan which is currently being developed until the end of 2015.
“WWF and other NGOs had to fight hard over the past years to make these guidelines acceptable”, said Irene Lucius, Head of Policy at WWF Danube-Carpathian Program. “Our rivers have suffered enough from hydropower plants built in ecologically vulnerable places and/or with outdated technology. Danube basin countries cannot afford repeating the mistakes of the past - healthy rivers systems provide a long list of services to people such as the provision of drinking water or lowering flood risk”.
The document recommends sensitive river sections - such as protected areas, stretches of high ecological status or headwater – to be kept free of hydropower development. It also promotes proper planning at national and regional level in other sections of rivers (beside exclusion) and in this context an adequate consideration of ecological and cultural values. The guidance furthermore suggests that hydropower plants must lower the damage to fish populations and other freshwater organisms as far as possible and explains how this can be achieved.
However, the biggest challenge lies ahead. “The guiding principles will mean nothing if they won´t be applied quickly and comprehensively for preventing irreversible damage by the tide of new hydropower projects”, added Irene Lucius. “In particular, we expect Danube basin countries with NGO involvement to designate new “no go” areas for hydropower and to take natural and cultural values of our rivers sufficiently into account when planning new projects.”
After WWF’s “Mountain rivers: the last chance” campaign in the end of 2013 Romania became the first country to accept the recommendations of ICPDR. By the end of May 2014 the government will adopt a bill to designate exclusion zones and later will develop a mechanism for pre-planning.
WWF had been advocating against the construction and operation of small hydropower plants in protected areas and in rivers with good and very good ecological status without strategic planning and appropriate environmental assessment. A petition to the Minister for Water, Forests and Fisheries was signed by more than 20,000 Romanians.
In Ukraine, WWF and a local NGO coalition persuaded the regional government of Ivano-Frankivsk to stop construction of small hydropower plants on the province’s mountain rivers. In Bulgaria, a similar river campaign will start this spring.