Siarzewo Dam – threat to Vistula river returns

In Poland, the threat of the Siarzewo Dam on the Vistula River returns following this week’s changes to Poland’s Ministry of Climate and Environment and a ruling by the Provincial Administrative Court that allows the project to continue under ‘immediate implementation’ status. In August, the Polish Minister of Climate and Environment Michał Kurtyka revoked the environmental consent for the construction project after many shortcomings in its impact assessments were highlighted by Polish NGOs. Now the former Undersecretary of State within the Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation, Anna Moskwa, is taking over the position to take a final decision on Siarzewo Dam, which is a key part of the E40 waterway.

Kurtyka’s revocation would have put the Siarzewo Dam investment back by several years since it required the entire environmental consent process to be relaunched.  His decision was welcomed by many environmental organizations, including the Save Polesia coalition. It was justified by the significant impact that the dam would have on the species and habitats protected by European nature directives like Natura 2000, insufficient public consultations held, falsely overriding public interest and violations to the procedures for obtaining sign-off from relevant authorities, amongst others. His announcement sparked hope that this would also mean Poland’s withdrawal from the economically, socially and environmentally unsound plans for the construction of the E40 waterway aiming to link the Black Sea to the Baltic. However, this reprieve was short lived.

Poland’s State Water Holding ‘Polish Waters’ appealed the revocation of environmental consent for their project by filing an objection to the court in Warsaw against this decision. On October 11th the court accepted this appeal, effectively reinstating the original, highly flawed environmental consent for Siarzewo Dam. There is still no publicly available written justification for the court’s decision.

This week, Mr Kurtyka – who annulled the Siarzewo Dam consent, left his position as Minister of Climate and Environment and Mrs Anna Moskwa was appointed. It will now be Moskwa who will take the final decision on the consent (whether to retain, amend or cancel this).  For the time being preparation for the project can continue as the original consent has ‘immediate implementation’ status.

As Moskwa was previously Undersecretary of State within the Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation and has close links to the Ministry of Infrastructure, speculation is that the final decision will not be positive for the environment. Polish NGOs are currently exploring all possible next steps. Save Polesia are also committed to do all they can to stop this devastating project.

Natural sandbanks in the Vistula – Poland’s largest river, now threatened by Siarzewo Dam construction. Photo credit: Shutterstock/Krzysztof Kościesza Photography

Draining coffers and wetlands, Siarzewo spells environmental disaster

The construction of the Siarzewo dam will cost PLN 4.5bn (about 1bn Euro). It would directly impact several Natura 2000 sites including Włocławska Vistula Valley, Nieszawska Vistula Valley and the Lower Vistula Valley; and would place others at risk (Solecka Dolina Wisły and Dybowska Dolina Wisły as well Vistula’s tributaries in the upper catchment).  The dam would create an additional barrier to the already seriously limited ecological connectivity of the Vistula. This would ultimately stop the return of migratory fish including salmon, trout and sturgeon that disappeared from the river over fifty years ago when the Włocławek Dam blocked their seasonal migrations. Negative climate impacts will also result from the Siarzewo dam, seeing methane emissions and seriously increased risk of flooding and drought – impacting local communities and food production as well as already fragile ecosystems. Despite the lack of a strategic decision in Poland on the construction of the E40 waterway the project seems to be developing by stealth in small sections, one being Siarzewo. 

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