Six Rivers Saved! Winning the Fight to Preserve Europe's Last Free-Flowing Rivers | WWF
Six Rivers Saved! Winning the Fight to Preserve Europe's Last Free-Flowing Rivers

Posted on 21 October 2019

The softening of the government’s position regarding small hydro comes after years of opposition from local initiatives fighting to save their rivers
“DID YOU HEAR, WE WON! The concession agreement was canceled,” excitedly texted one member of the initiative to save the Bukovica River. He was reacting to the announcement made by the Prime Minister of Montenegro Duško Marković on 17th October. He said that the government will start negotiations to terminate contracts to build several small hydropower plants in four municipalities. According to the official statement, in addition to the Bukovica River, construction will also stop on the Bistrica, Murinska, Đurička, Komarnička, and Trepačka rivers.

As the Prime Minister explained, while small hydro was seen as an opportunity for Montenegro to develop, it is now clear that “this development would miss its goal of raising the quality of life and stimulating the development of local communities, inseparable from the preservation of unique and healthy environments of those landscapes.”

The softening of the government’s position regarding small hydro comes after years of opposition from local initiatives fighting to save their rivers, and local and international NGOs supporting them. Over the years, WWF has played an important role in shining light on these issues not only in Montenegro, but in the wider region of Southeast Europe, by supporting local resistance and the willingness of communities to stand up for nature.

As part of WWF’s campaign to stop small hydro development in Southeast Europe, the Montenegrin government was asked to establish a multidisciplinary workgroup to evaluate the current concession politics. While an official reply from the Ministry of Economics is pending, the Prime Minister has already expressed his official support saying he “was pleased with the WWF’s initiative to form a multidisciplinary workgroup.”

“So far, when it comes to re-evaluating the official position on small hydro development, Montenegrin government has made the biggest effort, compared to neighboring countries. This decision, to cancel concession agreements for several projects, confirms that Montenegro is on its way to become a leader in the region when it comes to river protection and dealing with the problem of small hydro”, said Irma Popović Dujmović from WWF Adria.

While this week’s decision will only impact a small number of hydropower plants, out of more than 2,500 plants still planned throughout the region, WWF and local partners are adamant in their position that hydropower is not a green source of energy and will continue their efforts to stop the construction, and all projects to build small hydropower plants in Southeast Europe.

“Based on available data, it is evident that this explosion of small hydro is driven directly by various subsidies which are the only reason why these projects are economically viable. Furthermore, when applied to a region where corruption on all levels is systemic and normalized, we can understand why it is of utmost importance to put an end to what is a methodical and indiscriminate destruction of Europe’s last remaining free-flowing rivers. If we remove subsidies, these harmful projects will end”, concluded Popović Dujmović.

Although the decision of the government of Montenegro is a huge step in the right direction, they need to take decisive action to end subsidies for small hydro, showing other countries their dedication to preserving their rivers – their most valuable national treasure – and lead the region to a more sustainable future where rivers still run free.
Bistrica River, Montenegro
© M. Cabarkapa