Polish NGOs complain to European Commission about obsolete dams

Polish NGOs have submitted a complaint to the European Commission pointing out that huge, old dams on Polish rivers have never been studied for their impact on people and nature. This violates EU law.

What is the issue?

NGOs, ClientEarth Lawyers for the Earth, Save Polesia partner OTOP (BirdLife Poland) and Greenmind Foundation, have filed a complaint about a systemic problem in the management of Polish rivers.

The Polish authorities issue permits extending the operation of huge barrages built decades ago, without the assessment of their impact on the environment and Natura 2000 protected areas required by EU law.

In accordance with EU law, an environmental impact assessment and an assessment of the dam’s impact on nature protected in Natura 2000 areas should be carried out before issuing a permit to extend the operation of the dam. This is not the case in Poland. This violates the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and the Habitats Directive. That’s why we are filing a complaint with the European Commission – says Maja Starosta, a lawyer from the ClientEarth Lawyers for the Earth Foundation.

Why is operation of these unassessed dams dangerous?

The consequences of this legal problem can be very serious. Barrages may lead to extinction of populations of migratory fish species. Operation of dams disturbs the transport of river sediments, so the valleys downstream may dry out destroying whole ecosystems. The continued operation and extension of old dams can have many impacts including destruction of the habitats of birds and greenhouse gas emissions from decomposing sediments collected in dam reservoirs.

Only the environmental impact assessment procedure gives a chance to reduce the negative effects of damming on people and nature. For example, limiting the possibility of manipulating the flow at Włocławek barrage would have prevented destruction of almost 500 bird nests in May 2018 and the death of almost 5 million fish in autumn 2018, commented Jacek Engel from Greenmind Foundation.

Why is environmental impact assessment so important?

It would help to adapt the existing dams to modern standards, at least partially reducing their negative impacts.

Today we know much more about the negative impact of barriers on nature than 50 years ago, when these dams were built. Despite the development of knowledge, decades of experience in operation of dams, the increasingly drastic effects of climate change, progressing water crisis and changes in priorities and approaches to nature protection, water law permits are routinely extended for another 20 years – comments Marek Elas from OTOP.

Beautiful photos of terrifying dams

The issue was discussed during an event organized by the three NGOs on 29th of June. Ecologists, lawyers, activists, and journalists attended a photo exhibition by Jacek Kusz. His beautiful and terrifying photos of the biggest dams in Poland demonstrate the issue very well.

The Save Polesia coalition hopes that the European Commission will take action to put an end to Poland extending permits for many obsolete and environmentally harmful barrages.

Further information

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*Top image shows Włocławek dam, part of E40 waterway route. Photo credit: Jacek Kusz