Posted on 03 July 2023
Dam removal revolution in Finland gathers pace
In a historic decision, the government of Finland has committed to removing a series of hydropower dams in the Vuoksi watershed, which will restore the Paloki rapids and free up 1,500km of rivers and streams for endangered migratory fish.
The series of nine rapids in Heinävedi in North Karelia have been dammed to produce small hydropower since 1961 – leaving the rapids either under standing water in the depths of the dam reservoirs or dried up below the barriers.
The dams have ruined the rapids and undermined the health and functioning of the waterways. They have also blocked migration routes of the critically endangered Saimaa's salmon and destroyed key breeding grounds, contributing to the collapse in numbers of the species, which is now endangered.
Indeed, restoration of the Palok area, particularly its critically important rapids, is the single most important measure for reviving endangered salmon stocks in Finland's freshwater ecoystems. It is also one of the largest river restoration projects in Europe.
But the new deal provides real hope for the future – not only for migratory fish but for all the people and nature that depend on healthy waterways.
Removing hydropower dams that are irrelevant in terms of energy production as well as poorly designed culverts and other obsolete obstacles is a swift, proven way to restore rivers and bring back fish and biodiversity. Healthy rivers are also more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
And people do not have to look far to see the impact of dam removals and the restoration of rapids. A series of hydropower dams has been dismantled in South Karelia's Hiitolanjo River. Critically endangered salmon have already returned to breed again naturally.