++Scientists from Albania, Austria and Germany demand a moratorium on the construction of hydropower plants on the last wild river in Europe and a 3-year study period++
Tirana, June 8, 2016. On June 8 to 10, international experts from the University of Vienna, the Federal Environment Agency in Austria, the Leibniz Institute of Water Ecology and Fisheries (Germany), gathered with Albanian scientists from the University of Tirana and the Agricultural University of Tirana to discuss the future of the Vjosa River. They signed a joint memorandum which they handed over to Deputy Minister of Environment Kledi Xhaxhiu.
The Vjosa River is the last remaining natural river in Europe. In its course of over 270 km it still flows free and uninterrupted by dams. In some parts of the river, the bed is up to 2 km wide. According to scientists, this river system is almost unstudied. The Albanian government has recently made the decision to build a large hydropower plant with a dam in Pocem. The Poçemi dam is planned to be 25 m high, which will flood the most ecologically important and at the same time most unstudied part of the entire Vjosa basin.
Scientists from Albania, together with colleagues from Austria and Germany, are engaged in opposing these plans. In the joint memorandum, they addressed the following requests to the Albanian Government:
- We require that the Environmental Impact Assessments for each hydropower project must strictly follow EU standards.
- We strongly recommend a 3-year moratorium on the construction of hydropower plants on the Vjosa River and its tributaries.
- We request the initiation of an interdisciplinary research and assessment program for the Vjosa river system in collaboration with national and international scientists.
The Albanian scientists criticized in particular the quality of the Environmental Impact Reports (EIA) which were approved by the government during the planning phase of the hydropower plants. “EIAs in Albania are usually not realistic. Our knowledge of the flora and fauna as well as the state of sediment transport in the Vjosa river system is too limited to carry out a reliable EIA. We have a lack of data and scientific research”, said Prof. Aleko Miho from the University of Tirana.
“As a candidate country, Albania is advised to follow the procedures for drafting EIAs according to EU standards. We want to support the Albanian government to do this”, says Robert Konecny from the Federal Environment Agency in Austria.
“The Vjosa is the last free-flowing river system in Europe. From a European point of view, this river must be preserved at all costs. We must work together to prevent the mistakes we have made in the past with our rivers in Germany, Austria, etc”, said Dr. Martin Pusch from the Leibniz Institute of Aquatic Ecology and Fisheries (Germany).
For this reason, scientists request a 3-year moratorium on any construction on the Vjosa River in order to carry out an in-depth research study program during this period. “In Vjosa we can find the unique opportunity to discover ecological connections in undamaged river systems. The river serves as a natural laboratory which can provide us with data that will be needed to understand the renaturalization processes of other rivers in Europe”, said Prof. Friedrich Schiemer from the University of Vienna.
The scientists promised their assistance in finding the necessary funds for the 3-year study program.