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Hydropower plants in Central Europe a threat to biodiversity, warns WWF

Prague, Czech Republic – The proliferation of hydropower plants in the EU, including in Central and Eastern Europe, is “threatening Europe’s fragile freshwater biodiversity”, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned in a new report.

“Blatant disregard” for EU law and freshwater biodiversity

Commissioned and conducted by a number of environmental NGOs, including WWF, RiverWatch, GEOTA and EuroNatur, the study, released on November 28, is the first and most thorough European-wide inventory of hydropower plants established and under construction across the entire continent.

Hydropower development in Europe. Source: WWF

Providing “damning evidence of governments’ failure to protect rivers and biodiversity” and their “blatant disregard for EU water and nature protection laws”, the study shows that rivers across Europe are already saturated with hydropower dams, and that new plants planned or already under construction pose a great threat to freshwater biodiversity.

Over 20,000 hydropower plants in Europe

According to the authors of the study, Europe currently counts some 21,000 hydropower plants – “a conservative estimate, as they only include plants whose precise location could be validated” – and 8,700 additional new ones planned or under construction.

More than one-fourth of all planned hydropower plants are located in protected areas.

“Freshwater species populations are declining at twice the rate of terrestrial or marine species – and hydropower dams are a major pressure”, Andreas Baumüller, head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office, said, before urging the EU to “invest in enforcement, eradicate the abuse of exemptions, and say no to more hydropower in Europe”.

Existing (black), under construction (yellow) and planned (red) hydropower dams in the Danube region. Source: WWF

Central and Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine) itself already has 1,000 hydropower plants, and 400 planned for the next few years.

“The Danube catchment is becoming one of the most affected large river catchments not only in Europe, but also worldwide”, WWF warned in its press release. “We are facing nothing less than the end of free-flowing rivers in Europe”, Riverwatch CEO Ulrich Eichelmann noted.

According to a previous WWF report released in June, further hydropower development, already the largest renewable energy resource in Europe, is unnecessary for the EU to meet its long-term energy and climate goals.