Europe is removing dams to let rivers flow freely and to improve environment and wildlife

In an effort to return the environment to it’s original glory and help wildlife thrive again, Europe is endeavoring to remove dams that have interrupted the natural flow of rivers for decades.

The biggest removal of a dam to date will be the Vezins dam located in France, which will allow wild salmon to return to their ancient spawning grounds and improve water quality in order for the nation to abide by a European Union regulation requiring all members to achieve “good ecological status” by 2027.

Built in the 1920s and 30s, the Vezins dam stands at 118 feet high. And while it generated hydroelectric energy, it ultimately has caused more problems than it has solved.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation:

Artificial barriers (dams) are one of the biggest threats to river ecosystems, resulting in river fragmentation and loss of habitat connectivity. They stop the natural flow of sediments downstream and affect migratory fishes from travelling up- or downstream to complete their lifecycles. These impediments often lead to the decrease or decimation of native fish populations and can harbor other, non-native species in their adjacent impoundments.”

And as ocean fish populations continue to be threatened by overfishing and climate change, allowing freshwater fish populations to recover and boom is crucial.

“The dismantling of these ancient dams after almost 100 years of hydropower generation is a landmark in Europe’s attitudes to its rivers and energy production,” European Rivers Network president Roberto Epple said in a statement.

“The removal of the Vezins dam signals a revolution in Europe’s attitude to its rivers: instead of building new dams, countries are rebuilding healthy rivers and bringing back biodiversity,” Epple continued. “Nature can recover remarkably quickly when dams are removed and I look forward to watching salmon swimming past Mont St Michel and spawning in the headwaters of the Selune for the first time since my grandparents were young.”

It’s certainly an achievement that solidifies Europe’s status as the continent that takes climate change the most seriously, adding to other strides such as transitioning from coal power to clean energy and banning single-use plastics.

In addition, removing the dam will help improve eel and sturgeon species as well, and will return Europe to a more natural state teaming with wildlife.

“We congratulate France for proceeding with the biggest dam removal in Europe to date, and with that brings hope for migratory fish species, such as salmon, eel and sturgeon,” WWF’s European Policy Office Head of Natural Resources Andreas Baumüller said.

Now, if only the United States would follow suit, especially since many dams are already on the verge of collapsing anyway. If we are going to take improving the environment seriously, dam removal should be part of that equation. Our rivers need to run wild to restore pristine environments and help populations of fish and birds recover. Because helping the environment and wildlife helps us, too.

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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