No to canals and dams: world experience in histories similar to E40 history

In the modern world, it becomes increasingly clear that restoration of the environment and the wise use of natural resources are necessary conditions for the survival of mankind. Therefore, in the 21st century, it is customary to restore the river, and not to turn it into canals. A few examples from thedistant and close foreign countries are proof of this.

Danube-Odra-Elbe Canal, Czech Republic

Proponents: Ministry of Regional Development of the Czech Republic; the President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman.Project development date: 2007.

The idea of a canal that would connect Danube and Elbe basins, and consequently the Northern and Black Seas, was in the air since the fourteenth century. In 2007 a Czeck company Atelier T-plan at the request of the Ministry of Regional Development performed the project analysis, but no action had been taken. One of the reasons is the project cost that was estimated at 14-17 billion dollars. The main project advocate nowadays is the Czech President Miloš Zeman who is seeking funds for the project, including Chinese investors.

Czech ecologists have evaluated the losses, that will affect natural ecosystems in case the project is implemented — 717 billion dollars will be lost only on biotopes. Biodiversity losses can lead to life-support ecosystems functions decrease and can amount to at least one billion dollars. Another objection to the project is that a minimum required depth of the waterway should be 2,5 meters for the transportation needs, while the actual Odra depth is about 1,6 meters. The artificial deepening of the riverbed will have a negative impact on the groundwaters the level of which will go down aggravating the problem of droughts. River straightening will cause menaders and natural biotopes destruction, new biological corridors will influence invasive species non-native to the to local ecosystems movements. THe waterway construction is also opposed by The Czech Environment Agency of the Czech Ministry of Environment of the Czech Republic, various NGOs, and other experts.

The Elbe, Germany

Customer: the Governments of Germany and the Czech Republic.Project development date: 2007.

The Governments of Germany and the Czech Republic are planning to make the Elbe navigable. About 220 million EUR were supposed to be spent on a project of building a lock at the Elbe in the Czech Republic near the German border. After completion, a section of only 15 kilometers of the river could be used for shipping for all year round. Upstream and downstream of that lock the river depth varies and this makes regular cargo services impossible.

The project caused outrage among environmentalists because the construction of this lock would lead to the loss of many rare species and serious environmental problems. Additionally, the pressure for further construction to deepen the free-flowing Elbe would increase tremendously. Among the central European rivers, the Elbe river occupies a special place in the diversity of flora and fauna, and the Hohe Garbe region is one of the few remaining natural areas of the river floodplain. The BUND-Elbeprojekt and the Citizen initiative Pro Elbe in Germany and Arnika in Czech were active in that field and wanted to stop the plans for the development of shipping on the Elbe.

At present, the Czech Republic is still trying to further the project.

Dams in Spain

the largest number of 1200 dams was build in Europe. The dams in Alcalá del Río and Cantiliana (near Sevilla) caused the disappearance of sturgeon populations in the Guadalquivir River, and the dam in Palombera led to the destruction of the salmon population. Over time, minuses of dams became more and more obvious, and environmental activists launched series of campaigns to restore rivers and began to demand from the authorities to demolish the hydroelectric buildings which cause the greatest damage.

By 2008, about fifty dams had been eradicated – mostly on the northern rivers. This made it possible to reduce risks from flooding for salmon populations. In 2009, programs were launched to disable dams near Oviedo. More than twenty dams on the river Guadaira lost their operating licenses and were dismantled. On the Bidasoa River, on the border between France and Spain, where about 100 dams were built that prevent fish migration, five of them have been demolished for environmental reasons. The El Tranco Dam was demolished on the Manzanares River in Madrid. Between 2006 and 2016 in the kingdom of Navarro, 31 dams were destroyed, 22 of which were belonged to the Cantabrian basin and 9 to the Ebro Basin. In Spain renaturations of rivers is taking place gradually and they return to their natural state.

Oroville Dam, United States of America

One of the main threats to constructing new large dams is the risk of destruction caused by natural cataclysmic events. Thus, there were heavy rains in California in February 2017 and, as a consequence unacceptable water level increase in Lake Oroville. The water was discharged through the main spillway, but it was partly broken soon. The emergency spillway was activated. It was never used before and its erosion was worse than expected. As a result, almost 200 thousand people had been evacuated. About 100-200 billion dollars are needed to prevent complete dam destruction.

Interestingly, the government knew about the bad condition of the Oroville dam since 2005, even back then Greens asked to check and reinforce the structure, but their requirements remained unanswered by the United States officials. The dam was build in 1968 and by that time did not comply with safety criteria and that led to a flood during excessive rainfalls. The Oroville Dam is the highest in the USA (235 meters).

In the US over the past 50 years, 600 dams were dismantled already.

Hydroelectric power station on the Selenga River, Mongolia

The customer is the government of Mongolia.Beginning of construction in 2015.

The Selenga River flows on the territory of Mongolia and Russia and it is the largest river flowing into Lake Baikal. It provides up to half of the annual flow of water into the lake. Since the mid-2000s, the Mongolian government has repeatedly expressed its desire to build energy facilities on the Selenga river and its tributaries, but the implementation of these large-scale projects has not been fulfilled until the 2015 year.

At the end of 2015, the construction of a hydroelectric power station with the support of the Chinese state corporation “Gezuba” started on the tributary of the Selenga River, the Aeguin-Gol River. The project is financed by the Chinese Export-Import Bank, which allocated a loan of one billion dollars to the government of Mongolia. It is interesting that in 2009-2010 Mongolia tried to get financing from the World Bank, but the Russian authorities did everything possible to ensure that construction did not happen.

The hydropower plant on Aeguin-Gol – is the most powerful that is planned for construction and causes the greatest concern for environmentalists. It can provoke a change in the flow of water in the Selenga: now, in summer, the flow rate is 335 cubic meters/ sec, and in the winter – 30 cubic meters/ sec. As a result of the construction of several hydroelectric power stations on the river, discharges will be increased in winter, because water will be discharged through turbines to generate electricity, and in summer the amount of incoming water will be decreased. As a consequence, serious disruptions in the ecosystem of the Lake Baikal: groundwater levels rising, land degradation, deterioration of water quality due to runoff from the contaminated tributary of the Orkhon, changes in the temperature regime, violation of fish migration, increased water losses.

The struggle against the construction of the hydroelectric power station is carried out by Russian environmentalists, the Ministry of Natural Resources and activists of the international coalition “Rivers without Borders”.

Danube-Odra-Elbe Canal
Danube-Odra-Elbe Canal©