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An aerial view of the Vistula river, one of the longest rivers in Europe.

One step closer to Poland’s green light for the construction of a dam on the Vistula River worth 1 billion (850m), despite warnings about its potential destruction of rare wildlife habitats.

The Vistula runs for more than 620 kilometres from the Carpathian mountains. It passes through major cities before reaching the Baltic Sea. The state-owned company Polish WatersThe dam will be built over the main channel of the river Siarzewo in north-west Warsaw. Its primary purpose is to create hydroelectric power, flood protection, and navigation.

Since many years, Siarzewo has been the subject of discussions about building a dam. The plans for the dam were announced in August. rejectedAfter a coalition NGOs had warned it would damage one the largest rivers in Europe, it was approved by the Polish environment minister. This could have irreversible consequences for wildlife and humans.

Polish Waters won a successful court appeal in October, and the decision was reversed. The provincial administrative court has Consent givenimmediately implement the dam

The Siarzewo dam, which is 1,240-miles long, is a key component to the E40, an international waterway linking the Baltic and Black seas. It runs through the Chernobyl exclusion area where dredging began last year. The waterway would split Polesia (a large area of wild eastern Europe known as Europes Amazon).

Route of the E40 waterway planned

Campaigners and scientists warn that the dam could directly affect several EU-designated wildlife areas downstream of it, including Wocawska Vistula, Nieszawska Vistula, and lower Vistula. Have you been warned?. These Natura 2000 sites cover an area of 420 kilometres and protect the continent’s most endangered species such as the European fire-bellied tad, large copper butterflies, and European river lamprey.

For example, the little-tern is listed in Poland as vulnerable and 83% of its inhabitants nest in the Vistula valley. The decline of the little tern is largely due to human intervention in river systems. The proposed dam site is also a key breeding ground. Critically endangered Baltic sturgeon.

This results in significant loss of habitats and species that are considered priority habitats. Habitats DirectiveDr Przemysaw Chrylarecki of the Polish Academy of Sciences said that this includes riverine forests. In such cases consent can only be granted if it’s justified by the overriding public interests. Siarzewo is exempt from this. The dam’s construction was not motivated by an overriding public interest.

LegalAnalyseWWF Poland has shown the EU’s Habitats Directive and Water Framework Directive would be violated by building the dam. The European Commission declared the project dead in August. Currently, did not complyEU law.

An aerial view of the Vistula river, one of the longest rivers in Europe.
Aerial view of the Vistula River in Europe, one of Europe’s longest rivers. Photograph: Lukasz Szczepanski/Alamy

According to Andrzej Mikulski (a hydrobiologist at Warsaw University), all independent environmental NGOs in Poland protested against Siarzewo dam construction. The environmental consent for Siarzewo dam’s construction is highly flawed due to the obvious negative impact on the environment of the dam and the fact that these benefits are not outweighed by the potential risks. This has been emphasized by the Polish scientific community for many decades.

The lower part of the Vistula is in a natural condition, except for one dam in Wocawek. It has high levels biodiversity thanks to a floodplain, natural riverbed, and dynamic arrangement banks and channels. Mikulski claims that the dam would make several dozen kilometers of the Vistula a highly eutrophic water body, causing significant damage to the river and valley below it and making it difficult or impossible to reintroduce migratory fish.

RiverWatch released a report in 2019 stating that new generation of hydroelectric dams threaten Europe’s rivers and fuel the steep decline in freshwater fish like salmon and trout. RiverWatch’s first inventory of Europe’s hydropower plants found that a new generation of hydroelectric dams is threatening Europe’s rivers. European Environment AgencyResearch has shown that dams and reservoirs can be linked to coastal erosion and flooding elsewhere.

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A spokesperson for Polands Ministry of Climate and the Environment claimed that the Ministry had not yet received the final judgement on the dams construction and the files concerning the decision of the provincial administration court have not yet been returned. The spokesperson said that until the proceedings are over, it would not be possible to comment on this case.

The little tern is listed as vulnerable in Poland; 83% of its population nests in the Vistula valley.
The little tern is considered vulnerable in Poland. 83% of its population nests within the Vistula Valley.Photograph: AGAMI Photo Agency/Alamy

Polish Waters spokesperson said that the Siarzewo dam was necessary to protect the health of the population and the health of the economy. It is also an important part in flood protection and infrastructure. They stated that the project was in compliance with Polish law and EU law, as well as the Habitats Directive (Water Framework Directive), and that nearly 100 specialists from different fields worked on the development of the project, including engineers and natural scientists.

Polish Waters denies that the construction will cause harm to wildlife or the natural world. The spokesperson stated that the results were gathered using the most recent methods and techniques.

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