What is Dam Removal Europe?

The overall ambition of Dam Removal Europe is to restore rivers in Europe that have high natural or cultural importance. Currently, there are many of these rivers in Europe that are fragmented by obsolete dams and weirs. By removing these barriers, we can once again have healthy free-flowing rivers full of fishes for all to benefit.

Dam removal is already taking place in some parts of Europe. These removals are local initiatives driven by many enthusiastic community members and stakeholders. However, there are still thousands of obsolete dams that have not been removed and some we still do not know of!

Often, lack of awareness, knowledge, support, and funding for dam removals are bottlenecks. Therefore, the Dam Removal Europe initiative aims to join local projects and make dam removal a mainstream river management option in Europe. Through this predominantly bottom-up process, we can create a holistic approach to remove dams and show off the benefits.

View Removed Dams

Dam Removal Europe is a project that allows relevant specialists to connect with one another. Through DRE seminars we share knowledge and inspire new visions for a free-flowing Europe. Dam Removal Europe offers a website to communicate about removal case studies, share news and information, and upload movies. DRE better enables support and guidance of future dam removal projects under the umbrella of the European Dam Removal movement.

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Why Remove Dams?

There are specific analyses focusing on various issues associated with dam removal, including economic, political, social and environmental factors.* These studies demonstrate why dam removal is becoming a more realistic, viable, and beneficial approach to river restoration. In essence, there are 4 main reasons to remove dams:

*Analyses are cited in the small bibliography at the bottom of this page

Safety and security concerns of old and obsolete dams now and in the future:

  • Dams are not waterfalls. They have a lifetime expectation and need periodic maintenance and repairs to avoid dam collapses.
  • Older dams are generally not designed for water discharge outside an accepted flow exchange1. They are also likely to have reached high sedimentation rates which could threaten structural integrity2. And as a result of ongoing and future climate change disturbances and predicted severe floods, serious threats to humans and infrastructures are now recognised3. Therefore, older dams need special attention to avoid such safety and security risks.
  • 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.

The restoration of freshwater environments in Europe is underpinned by important EU legislative requirements and the restoration of the continuum of rivers is a fundamental part of that.

  • 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.
  • 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.

Often, the removal of man-made structures seems expensive and impractical. However, several analyses and case studies have shown otherwise.

  • Dam removal is generally cheaper than either repairing and maintaining old dams indefinitely or constructing formal fish passage structures, which solves only part of the barrier impact4.
  • 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 downstreamas the river recovers to its natural state, improves in water quality, and restores historic fish populations.

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Dams impact every aspect of healthy riversincluding the fishes we like to eat and fish. If we want to keep certain fish species in Europe, like eel, sturgeon, and salmon, we must restore connectivity from sea to source. Not only do fish rely on natural river systems but also many other species living in the water and on land depend on and would benefit from free-flowing rivers.

  • Dams lead to loss of river habitat as the river is transferred into impoundments (impoundments or reservoirs are not lakes).
  • Dams cause severe changes to the hydro and sediment dynamics in the river. This impact can reach hundreds of kilometers downstream affecting deltas and favouring different, often invasive species8.
  • Dams seriously impede the migration of fishes which directly results in a decline and even local extinction of many species9.

Footnotes

1. Palmer et al, 2008 – 2. Lejon, 2009 – 3. Evans et al, 2000 – 4. Born et al, 1998; Doyle and Stanley, 2005; WWF, 2009; American Rivers, 2012) – 5. Kruse and Scholz, 2006, 6. The Heinz Center, 2002 – 7. American Rivers, 2012 – 8. Peter, 1998; Jungwirth, 1998; Gosset et al, 2006; Tejeiro et al, 2006; Roscoe and Hinch, 2010 – 9. Stanford et al, 1996

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