Posted on 06 December 2021
Removal of Virtaankoski hydropower dam will free Tainion river and bring migratory fish back to country's 2nd largest lake after 70 years
Since 1956, the Virtaankoski hydropower plant has blocked the river Tainion, preventing migratory fish – including endangered trout and whitefish – from reaching their ancient spawning grounds in Finland’s third largest lake, Päijänne.
But the river will soon flow freely again – because the dam is going to be removed and the river restored in one of the most significant dam removals in Finish history.
At the start of 2022, control of the hydropower plant will be transferred to Hiitolanjoen Voima Oy, which is owned by the South Karelia Recreation Area Foundation, which is currently restoring the Hiitolanjoki River in Rautjärvi by dismantling its three hydropower dams.
“Whenever a dam is demolished, it is a concrete and effective act to stop the loss of nature. Demolition of the dam is like a famous silver bullet: a single measure with quick and lasting positive effects,” said Sampsa Vilhunen, Programme Director at WWF-Finland.
Although WWF has been involved in dismantling and bypassing many dams and other obstacles to fish migration in Finland, the Virtaankoski dam removal plan is one of the most noteworthy.
The new owner will undertake the necessary restoration and development measures to convert the the Virtaankoski rapids from electricity production into a site for tourism, recreation and museum activities, with the free flowing river as its central element. This will also ensure that trout and migratory whitefish can reach their spawning areas upstream. Restoration will be carried out in close cooperation with local residents and the municipality of Sysmä, in a way that will treasure the valuable cultural landscape.
In recent years, dams have been demolished all over Finland. WWF has also been involved in more than 40 projects to remove small and large dams and other obstacles to fish spawning or to build structures to help fish bypass or cross obstacles.
The government, the Municipality of Sysmä, WWF and the Lassi Leppinen Foundation, as well as private donors, are participating in financing and conducting the removal of the Virtaankoski power plant and restoration of the rapids. Part of the cost of the work done to promote the project has been covered by a European Maritime and Fisheries Fund project, with WWF-Finland as one of the key actors.
“Migratory fish projects have inspired different stakeholders to cooperate in different parts of Finland. With support from the government’s, a good future for the Virtankoski rapids can now be ensured in cooperation between the owner and regional and private stakeholders. After the dam has been demolished and the Virtaankoski rapids have been restored, trout and migratory common whitefish of Päijänne will in future be able to migrate over a wide area,” said Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä.
Removing dams is a key pillar of WWF's Living European Rivers initiative