Europe’s Record Dam Removal

According to the 2021 Dam Removal Progress report, around 239 dams were removed from rivers across 17 European countries. This is a 137% increase from the previous year. Till now 4,984 dams have been removed.

What is the Dam Removal Progress report 2021 and what are its findings?

It is a report prepared by Dam Removal Europe (DRE), an organization working to restore rivers in Europe. The report helps countries of Europe to track the progress and impact of the dam removal and restoration of the rivers.

In 2021, Spain removed the highest number of barriers over its rivers (108). Countries like Portugal, Montenegro, and Slovakia removed riverine barriers for the first time. There is an increase in the total number of dam removals and also the number of countries that removed dams. In 2021, there was a 55% increase in the number of European countries which reported their dam removal statistics as compared to the previous year.

What qualifies as a barrier removal?

A barrier must be removed through its full vertical extent so that most of the stream can pass through, thereby allowing environmental or ecological flow (e-flow). According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), ecological or environmental flow refers to water required for a water body to maintain ecosystems where flows are regulated. Mere bypasses and technical fishways will not qualify as barrier removals.

Why is removing dams important?

Dams fragment rivers and destroy the habitat for species belonging to riverine ecosystems. They disrupt the routes of migratory fish. According to the analysis by the World Fish Migration Foundation, migratory freshwater fish in Europe have declined by 93%. Loss of fish severely affects the livelihoods of fishermen, which sometimes outweighs the value of the power produced by hydroelectric dams. Huge sedimentation caused by dams threatens the structural integrity of dams and can lead to flash floods, thereby threatening the life of people downstream.

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