In 2021, Spain began a movement to remove dams from the country’s rivers to restore fish migration routes and boost biodiversity across the nation. They successfully took down 108 barriers and inspired other European countries to do the same.
“Our efforts to expand dam removals across Europe are gathering speed,” said Pao Fernández Garrido, project manager for the World Fish Migration Foundation who also played a role in producing Dam Removal Europe’s annual report.
Dam Removal Europe is a coalition of seven organizations that prioritize the restoration of healthy, free-flowing rivers across Europe.
“An increasing number of governments, NGOs, companies, and communities are understanding the importance of halting and reversing nature loss and buying into the fact that dam removal is a river-restoration tool that boosts biodiversity and enhances climate resilience. We’re also seeing lessons being learned from previous dam removals, new countries kickstarting removals, and new fundings, including crowdfunding,” Fernández Garrido adds.
At least 239 barriers across 17 European countries ended up being removed. Currently, there are over one million barriers in Europe’s rivers, and a good number of them were built over a century ago, and at least 150,000 are obsolete and serve no economic purpose. Instead, they only offer obstacles that prevent fish from completing their migration routes, which results in a loss of breeding areas and ultimately reduced number of species like salmon, sturgeon, trout, and eel.
These losses translate to the wider biodiversity of ecosystems and affect other species like eagles and otters.
“Removing dams is a real need,” asserts Fernández Garrido. “We have hundreds of thousands of abandoned barriers, which is a safety problem. Dams affect water quality and underground water levels, cause channel and coastal erosion and beach disappearances, generate greenhouse gas emissions, and lead to declines and even extinctions of migratory fish populations, with a 93 percent decline of migratory fish in Europe in the last 50 years.”
Of course, some dams and barriers still serve important purposes, so those will remain untouched. However, “if a dam or weir isn’t strictly necessary anymore, we mustn’t pass the burden to future generations,” Fernández Garrido continues.
Fernández Garrido is confident that 2022 will surpass 2021’s dam removals, because “financial aids are being created to help cover the removal costs, like the new Open Rivers Programme, which will invest €42.5 million over the next six years to help remove river barriers in Europe.”