The overall ambition of Dam Removal Europe is to restore rivers in Europe, which used to be of high natural or cultural importance by removing dams in order to have once again healthy free flowing rivers full of fish for all to benefit. There are many rivers in Europe which would ecologically flourish if the dams and weirs which do not have any use anymore could be removed.
What is Dam Removal Europe?
Dam removal is already taking place in some parts of Europe. These are local initiatives, with many enthusiastic stakeholders driving the process. Lack of awareness, knowledge, support by decision makers and funding for dam removal are generally bottlenecks. The added value of an European dam removal initiative is to bring the local experiences together and make dam removal a mainstream river management option in Europe. Not necessarily top down, but especially bottom-up, by demonstrating the benefits of dam removal.
Why removing dams?
There are specific analyses focusing on various themes associated with dam removal, including economic, political, social and environmental factors, and many are cited in the small bibliography on the bottom of this page. All these studies demonstrate why dam removal is becoming a more realistic and viable approach to river restoration. Basically there are 4 good reasons to remove dams:
Safety and security now and in the future
- Dams are not waterfalls, they have a lifetime expectation and therefore they need to be maintained and repaired to avoid dam collapses.
- Older impoundments are generally not designed for a water discharge outside a nominal flow range1, and as a result of ongoing and future climate change disturbances and predicted severe floods, serious threats to humans and infrastructures are now recognised2. Older dams therefore need special attention, as they are also likely to have reached high sedimentation rates which could threaten structural integrity3.
- In addition, the public many times ignore the great danger involved in some small dams and weirs. In United States, some small weirs are commonly known as “drowning machines” because the hydraulic notch created right below the weirs suck swimmers, fishermen, and kayakers when trying to cross the weir.
Under the terms of the European Union Water Framework Directive, European member states in the European Commission of 2000 agreed to achieve “good ecological status” in all water bodies by 2027. Furthermore, under the Habitats Directive the European Commission requires member states to restore and maintain the natural habitats of the European Union Natura 2000 network by 2015. The restoration of the freshwater environments of Europe is therefore underpinned by important EU legislative requirements, and the restoration of the continuum of rivers is a fundamental part of that.
- Economically, dam removal is generally much cheaper than either repairing and maintaining old dams into the future or constructing formal fish passage structures, which mostly solves only part of the impoundment impact4.
- Moreover, in some rivers the loss of income caused by the loss of fishing can be greater than the value of the power produced by hydropower dams5.
- After removing some dams, recreational opportunities can improve downstream6 as recovery of the natural dynamics of the river, the improvement of water quality and the restoration of fish populations occurs.
- Dams impact every aspect of healthy rivers7. Dams lead to loss of river habitat as the river is transferred into impoundments, (impoundments or reservoirs are not lakes).
- Dams lead to loss of river habitat as the hydro and sediments dynamics in the river are severely modified. This impact can reach hundreds of kilometres down the river and affect deltas.
- Dams seriously impede the migrations of fish and this leads directly to the decline and even local extinction of many species8. If we want to keep certain fish species in Europe, like eel, sturgeon, salmon, it is of great importance to restore connectivity from sea to source. However, we tend to focus on fish in relation to dam impacts; but many other species living in the water and on land depend on natural rivers and would benefit from free- flowing rivers.
- Modification of water dynamics do also alter habitats and thereby favouring different, often invasive species9