Classifications matter. And in the case of dams, they actually matter quite a lot.
The EU, just like pretty much the rest of the world, considers the electricity produced by damming rivers as a sustainable source of energy. In fact this is EU’s number one sustainable energy source. And while the energy generated by the dams is technically renewable, it’s hard to judge if its really sustainable. Dams pose a series of environmental challenges linked to biodiversity loss, greenhouse gases as well as coastal and riverbed erosion. You will find more information on these topics in the end of this article.
The EU bloc is aiming to reach its 27% sustainable energy goal by 2030 and dams are set to play big role in this. The expansion of dams in EU member states is rampant, but it’s even worse in countries that are looking to join the Union. In order to reach their sustainability targets necessary for their EU applications Balkan nations are going to install a massive amount of new dams. Many of the nearly 3000 planned installations are going to hurt protected areas and natural parks, as well as some of the last untouched rivers in Europe. The fact that the EU still considers hydro-power as a sustainable source of energy is directly dictating policies within and outside its borders.
Speaking of classifications, the size of the dams plays another important role. Small scale dams usually don’t require an assessment of the environmental consequences that they entail. This is a really big problem, since the vast majority of the new dams that are set to be build in the Balkan are going to be under the 10 megawatts per hour threshold. This means that the governments are not going to properly assess the environmental pressure that these projects are going to exert on the pristine environments. The negative effects of multiple small scale dams build along a river do add up and degrade the habitat substantially. At the very least we need to assess the environmental impacts of big and small dams properly before we give green light to their construction.
New research is discovering mechanisms that impact the health of the ecosystems that were previously misunderstood or underestimated. The fish passages constructed next to the dams are proving to be an insufficient method of preserving the populations of many of the native species of fish. Greenhouse gas emissions generated by the rotting organic matter exceed our previous estimations. We need to take these any many other factors into consideration, our laws and policies should be based on our scientific understanding. Different dams have different impacts and each of them has to be measured case by case. Hydro-power will certainly remain a major source of EU’s electricity, but we shouldn’t lie to ourselves that all of it is generated in a sustainable way.
The Blue Heart of Europe is a massive information campaign launched by the company Patagonia that puts the focus on the future of last pristine rivers in Europe, home to unique and vital ecosystems.They have produced a documentary movie that raises awareness about the various environmental impacts of dams and it also calls for action. Find out more about the movie by following this link, you can sign the petition here. Learn more about the effects of dams in the links below :