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First Dam Removal in Western Balkans

Vezišnica in Montenegro is once more a free-flowing river after three dams have been removed

Pljevlja, Montenegro – Vezišnica is one of the most important and biodiverse tributaries of the Ćehotina River, but today, it is only a shadow of its former self. Industrial pollution, untreated wastewater, and illegal barriers have negatively affected the once rich flora and fauna of the river. However, the first steps towards bringing life back to Vezišnica were made today by removing three non-functional, illegal dams. This event is all the more important because it is the first case of dam removal in the region.

“We welcome the initiative to remove obsolete, undesirable, and dysfunctional barriers from rivers. By joining the initiative, Pljevlja Municipality and the wider community directly contribute to the achievement of environmental goals, both national and international, especially in the context of improving the ecological status of rivers”, said Mervan Avdović, vice-president of Pljevlja Municipality.

The US recognised the importance of removing old and dysfunctional dams a few decades ago, but in Europe, the trend began only ten years ago. More and more dams are being removed every year, especially since the EU Biodiversity Strategy set the goal to return 25,000 km of rivers to their natural state by 2030. Such projects also directly support the measures to improve the ecological status prescribed by the Water Framework Directive, which Montenegro has committed to implement.

"The municipality of Pljevlja recognized the opportunity to remove three dams on Vezišnica and joined the invitation that WWF Adria sent to municipalities and public institutions in Montenegro and Croatia. Considering that by removing the three dams on Vezišnica, it will again become a free-flowing river, we are especially happy that this is the first dam removal site in the region. We would like to replicate this success in Croatia and Slovenia, but also continue our efforts in Montenegro, where the Ministry of Ecology, Spatial Planning and Urbanism has expressed a desire for us to work together on this issue," said Branka Španiček, coordinator of the dam removal initiative at WWF Adria.

Removing barriers from rivers restores the natural dynamics of water flow, allows fish and other species living in rivers to migrate, and significantly reduces the risk of floods and droughts. Rivers naturally perform many functions that benefit both individuals and communities, from providing drinking water and food to regulating the effects of climate change. That is why dam removal initiatives, like the one that was started today in the Pljevlja Municipality, are so important, both for nature and society as a whole.

Without the cooperation of the municipality and the relevant ministry, as well as the support of the Sports and Fishing Club "Lipljen-Pljevlja", this would not be possible. It is crucial that all stakeholders and local communities agree with and support nature conservation efforts, and that all professional standards and legal requirements are met.

Tamara Brajović, Director General of the Directorate of Nature at the Ministry of Ecology, Spatial Planning and Urbanism, stressed that this is just the beginning of cooperation on the identification of exact locations and number of old and obsolete dams, which will enable the reconnection of tens-of-kilometres of rivers and streams, and restore river biodiversity. "This initiative is not only an effort of the Ministry to meet European standards and its commitments towards the European Union but also part of our mission to educate the public about these activities. It is important to explain and raise public awareness on the importance of biodiversity, and the impact of putting individual needs before nature through reckless and unprofessional behaviour that leads to far-reaching consequences at the expense of the entire society”, said Brajović.

WWF Adria hopes that in the coming period, other municipalities in Montenegro will respond to the invitation sent earlier this year to work systematically to remove hundreds of old and dysfunctional barriers from rivers in Montenegro.

Improving the ecological status of the Vezišnica River is also part of the project WWF Adria, Pljevlja Municipality, the Association "Da zaživi selo", Eco-team and The Nature Conservancy are working on to protect the upper part of the Ćehotina River, and research is currently being conducted as a precondition for future protection of the area. These are all opportunities for long-term and sustainable development of the entire Pljevlja region through a green and fair transition, benefiting nature and people alike.
Dam removal on the Vezišnica River in Montenegro