WWF outlines seven sins of dam building in Europe and the rest of World
(Brussels, 22nd March) - This World Water Day WWF has launched the report, “Seven Sins of Dam Building,” that heavily criticises dam projects worldwide that violate fundamental sustainability criteria. Of the dams examined, four can be found in Europe, the Kaunertal Power Plant in Austria, the Morača Hydropower Cascade in Montenegro, the hydropower plant system in development in Romania and the Cide Regulator & Hydropower Electric Power Plant in Turkey.
The ‘Seven Sins’ outlined in the report include issues with dam location, neglecting biodiversity, environmental flows, social and economic factors, and risk analysis. WWF also notes that dam decisions often blindly follow “a bias to build” without considering better, cheaper, and less damaging alternatives.
Comments from leading WWF experts
Sergey Moroz, Senior Water Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office
“Properly planned, built, and operated dams can contribute to food and energy security, unfortunately short-term interests are too often the focus of decision-making. In order to guarantee acceptable levels of social and environmental sustainability in the EU, dam installations and operations should comply with letter and spirit of the EU’s Water Framework Directive . They must be stringently checked against sustainability criteria as formulated under the World Commission on Dams or the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol. If necessary, insufficiently performing projects must be modified or aborted.”
“WWF reviewed nine dams and we found that many projects commit not just one, but many grave sins of dam building. However, these errors are avoidable, lack of capacity, economic pressure, or specific regional circumstances can no longer be presented as excuses.”
“No sustainable outcomes can be expected when dam proponents rely on superior financial strength and political connections rather than on dialogue, transparency, and reason. The report shows that dams are still planned and built in ecologically high value areas and biodiversity loss is still too often not accounted for. Serious impacts, caused by a change in the natural water flow dynamics or the disappearance of wetlands, are still not given consideration.”
Negative impacts across Europe
The problems are not limited to developing and emerging countries, companies and engineers from the EU continue to not only push projects forward in emerging markets that are unacceptable by global standards, but also in the heart of the EU and North America.
The size of a dam is not necessarily the only deciding factor. Though numerous mega-projects can be found in the report’s case studies, the cumulative impact of many small hydro projects, as in Romania where damns are being built in protected Natura 2000 areas. In most cases, neither the required Natura 2000 assessment nor project permitted by environmental protection authorities was obtained.
In Austria heavy ecological deterioration looms for three alpine valleys in the Ötztal Alps, if the extension of the Kaunertal hydroelectric power plants is implemented it would irreversibly change untouched natural areas.
In Montenegro, the Morača Hydropower Cascade, poses a threat to the lake Skadar, the largest lake in the Balkan peninsula. The lake’s biodiversity is under threat as a cascade of dams is planned upstream on the Morača River which feeds the lake.
In Turkey the Cide Regulator and Hydropower Electric Power Plant will has a negative effect on the waterways passing through the Kure Mountains National Park which have legal protection since 2000. Any modifications would affect the aquatic and riparian ecosystems as well as the terrestrial ecosystems linked with the natural water flow and its microhabitat.