Nouria Newman loves nothing more than whitewater kayaking in all it’s forms whether it’s in freestyle, canoe slalom or extreme kayaking. If racing has always been a big part of her kayaking career (freestyle junior World Champion in 2009, Slalom vice world champion in 2013, extreme kayaking world champion in 2013 and 2014), nothing beats being out on a beautiful river with your friends.
“Le Villaret du Nial”. People always make a funny face or make fun of me when I tell them where I come from: a village in France they don’t know because there is no more than ten houses, no shops and pretty much nothing to do but enjoying the national park and the mountains right behind the house. As a kid I grew up playing outside. On a good winter day we would make an igloo or a ski jump, in summer we would climb little rocks, explore small caves or go for a swim in the creek…
Le Villaret du Nial was a magical place to grow up…until the magic disappeared. In spring 2000 we didn’t see the blue crystal water of the lake when we looked out the window. Instead we saw a huge field of mud. They emptied the lake to do some maintenance on the dam. The worst part wasn’t actually the view but to see my neighbor Paul. When the water started dropping he changed. The less water there was, the sadder he would get. After a few weeks we started seeing ruins. Paul used to live here. In 1952 a big dam was built and the old town of Tignes was flooded. Like many other inhabitants Paul tried to resist. He stayed in his house until the very last minute and lost most things he had.
That year I fully realized what a dam was. I realized that the painted giant on the dam wall wasn’t holding the water, concrete was. I realized that it was super dangerous to keep playing in the small creek behind the house because there was a dam with automatic releases just above us. I realized that the river I was kayaking on wasn’t free flowing but running on dam releases.
Coming out of the Great depression or the war, dams seemed to be a great idea. It made sense couple decades ago but not anymore. Hydro Power isn’t green. Dams – even small ones – affect the environment. A dam limits sediment transport, changes the water temperature, limits fish migration…It drastically alters the entire eco system and leads to the extinction of endangered species. Hydro projects also cost a lot of money. Most dams are located in remote areas and involve cutting trees, building roads and power lines. The energy dams produce is just not worth destroying a free flowing river.
When I was 5 years old I felt in love with the sport of kayaking. It took me to some incredible places. I feel very fortunate for getting the opportunity to paddle on a few free flowing rivers and it makes me very sad to see that all my home rivers are dammed or that there are people who never paddled anything else than an artificial river. Whitewater kayaking gave me more happiness than anything else in my life and I wish everyone to get to experience the strength of whitewater and the power of a free flowing river.
I can only support projects such as the Balkan Rivers Tour and I hope there will be lots of paddlers joining the events along the tour!
The Balkan Rivers Tour is a joint activity by Leeway Collective, EuroNatur, Riverwatch, and WWF, organized within the framework of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign. Without any regard for protected areas, endangered species or local communities, about 2,700 hydropower plants are projected to be built between Slovenia and Albania. With this campaign, we want to stop this dam tsunami.
Find out more here: http://www.balkanrivers.net/ and http://www.balkanriverstour.com/