Ukrainian civil society calls for a halt in illegal hydropower construction

Posted on July, 07 2015

Meanwhile, Romanian regional court rules against illegal local hydropower
Representatives of WWF and other public organizations in Ukraine are calling on to the authorities in the regions of Zakarpattia, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Rivne and Chernivtsi to stop illegal construction of hydroelectric power plants. The construction is going on right now on the river Sărata and is in violation of environmental laws and conventions. 

There are plans to construct more than 500 small hydropower plants in the entire Ukrainian part of the Carpathian Mountains. This can lead to significant negative consequences for the populations of animals and plants and their habitats, as well as to traditional economies and tourism. 

Environmentalists hope that decision-makers will resolve the numerous existing conflicts between investors on the one hand and local communities, nature conservationists, tourists, fishermen and other river users on the other. This is an opportunity to create conditions for the preservation of rivers and aquatic ecosystems and to regulate the development of small hydropower. 

The main requirements are the environmentalists are:
  1. To establish a moratorium on the construction and further approval of documents for the construction of small, mini and micro hydropower plants in the regions of Zakarpattia, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Rivne and Chernivtsi in accordance with the applicable rules of Ukrainian, European and international law.
  2. To allocate hydropower no-go areas for natural river stretches because hydropower construction there violates the Red Book of Ukraine Law, the law on protected nature areas in Ukraine and other legal acts.
  3. The Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers should legally designate natural river stretches as such in order to protect them.
  4. To give hydropower construction permits only after considering their cumulative effects and the need to protect the population and businesses from  floods, as well as to give priority to the good management of existing hydropower.
  5. To require an environmental impact assessment of all hydropower projects.
These are some of the dangers of hydropower construction carried out without considering the possible environmental impacts:

     -- Water supply to the region can be disrupted;
     --  An excess amount of river water stays blocked in dams, which irretrievably destroys natural river ecosystems;
    --  Fish is not able to migrate to spawn in the upper reaches of rivers. This means that most species disappear in each Carpathian river that has ongoing construction of at least one small hydropower plant;
    --  There is an inevitable degradation of different natural ecosystems and habitats of rare flora and fauna species listed in the Red Book of Ukraine;
   --  Rivers can no longer be used for fishing and rafting, which destroys opportunities for developing tourism;
   --  The risks associated with flooding, landslides and dam breakings increase;
   --  The cumulative effects of infrastructure in the mountainous regions leads to an increase in seismic risks and an overall degradation of the landscapes.
Romanian regional court rules against illegal hydropower
Meanwhile, Romania’s regional court of Caras-Severin in Romania’s Southern Carpathians has called for the cancellation of the environmental permits of 2 hydropower projects issued illegally – one on The Bistra Mărului River and one on the Olteana River. Both are situated in the Ţarcu Mountains, a Natura 2000 area of European interest.
The Coalition “Natura 2000, Romania Federation”, of which WWF is part, welcomes this decision, which will save the region from the long-term impact of such projects. The coalition has been asking the court to annul the permits since August 2014.
The environmental assessments for the plants were issued illegally by the Environmental Protection Agency of Caras-Severin in June 2014. The new court decision is a proof of the impact civil society can have on such developments and a sign that the law can be respected in Romania.
The Ţarcu Mountains form a compact area of virtually unaltered lands without human settlements, except for one tourist complex. From the forest, over 10,016 hectares are virgin forests.
Some of the species that would have been badly affected by hydropower construction on the Bistra Marului, Şucu and Olteana rivers are the European bullhead fish (Cottus gobio), a species affected by any change of habitat, which can even lead to its extinction, and the Carpathian brook lamprey (Eudntomizon Danford), a species that needs relatively large volumes of water to thrive. 
Small hydropower plants built without environmental assessments cause excessive harm to the especially valuable river ecosystems of the Carpathian region.
Water catchment in Bautar Valley, Tarcu Mountains, Romania
© WWF Romania
Water catchment in Cuntu Valley, Tarcu Mountains, Romania
© WWF Romania
Water catchment in Sebesel Valley, Tarcu Mountains, Romania
© WWF Romania