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"Hydroelectric gold", The Guardian echoes Vjosa: How Europe's first wild river national park removed dams

"Hydroelectric gold", The Guardian echoes Vjosa: How Europe's

The Vjosa River was declared a National Park a week ago. "The Guardian" has dedicated an article to the Vjosa River, calling it the first wild river to be declared a National Park.

The article focuses on the construction of dams on the Vjosa River as it writes: "At one point, 45 dams were proposed on the Vjosa River, eight on the main river and 37 on its tributaries. Until now, the largest was the 50-meter-high Kalivac hydropower plant. You can still see the terraces cut into the hills on either side of the river, while long-abandoned earth movers remain on one bank, left by an Italian company that started work in 2007, before abandoning it. In the river beyond, the arm of a yellow digger lies, half submerged.”

The head of Riveratch, a Vienna-based NGO for river protection, Ulrich Eichelmann, and his allies from the Save the Blue Heart of Europe (STBHE) coalition, have campaigned relentlessly against what they call "hydroelectric gold". in the Balkans, where its most pristine and biodiverse rivers are threatened by more than 3,000 proposed dams.

Eichelmann notes the gravel islands where stone curlews lay their eggs, and the gorges where hawks nest. Complex underwater habitats support critically endangered European eels, whose numbers have declined by 95% since the 1980s, as they migrate 270 km (168 miles) upstream to the river's source in the Pindus Mountains in Greece.

"That's the attacker!" Eichelmann says, as his eyes wander to the distant fadromes. "It's a symbol of war - but the river won."

"The dam would destroy the whole system," says Eichelmann. "The water will not be clean, the gravel will be blocked. The dam will collect sediment and the whole thing will collapse. A tank may look beautiful, but underneath it is stagnant.”

After the failed Italian project, the Albanian government, which receives almost all of its domestic energy production from hydropower, awarded a concession to build the dam to a Turkish-Albanian consortium in 2017.

Ulrika Åberg, a project officer at IUCN, says: "When people talk about hydropower as renewable, they say: 'It's just water, it's the same water in the system.' But what it does to a river is not renewable. It destroys habitats that have been built up over years."

If the planned dam were to be built on the tributary, it would divert the river 7 km downstream and bring no profit to the community, which is interested in developing river-based tourism.

The marathon campaign to get protected park status for Vjosa involved years of protests, lawsuits and investigations questioning environmental impact assessments submitted by hydropower companies.

The campaign attracted support from scientists, EU parliamentarians and celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio. In 2018, Eichelmann accompanied international scientists to the banks of Vjosa to carry out sampling. They found 1,000 species of plants and animals, 13 of which were globally threatened.

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