Aquaculture for all

Montenegro Dams Pose Threat to Lake Skadar

Environment Politics

EU - Dam projects planned in Montenegro will likely harm Lake Skadar, the largest lake in the Balkans and a protected wetland site that is home to crucial bird and fish habitats, according to a study by WWF and Green Home.

The study – ‘Proposed construction of dams on Morača River: environmental risk assessment of Morača canyon and Skadar lake’ – shows that four dams planned on the Morača River could create water level changes that would impact on the speed, time and quantity of water flow and sediments transported into the lake.

“The construction of dams on Morača river should be carefully evaluated to assess whether they are the best possible options (cost-effective and less environmentally and socially damaging) as their construction will have an impact on important sites (...) and on the economy of local populations just to mention the most striking impacts,” according to the study.

Lake Skadar and its surrounding wetlands are listed under the Ramsar Convention as wetlands of global importance.

The lake houses one of the most important bird and fish habitats in the Mediterranean region – providing more than 90% of fish consumed in Montenegro.

Lake Skadar also is one of Europe's five most important wintering sites for birds. Some 150,000 birds migrate to the lake every year to spend the winter season, according to recent censuses.

In addition, Lake Skadar is largely fed by rivers, including the Morača, which provides approximately 60% of the lake’s water.

“The results of our studies are more dramatic than we could have imagined,” said Francesca Antonelli, Head of the Freshwater Programme at WWF Mediterranean.

“If the construction of these dams goes ahead, not only the Morača River ecosystem, but also the biodiversity of the largest lake in the Balkans – not to mention hundreds of local jobs and livelihoods – would suffer a serious blow.”

Flooding of the Morača canyon would also severely affect two nature hotspots designated as Emerald Network sites (also soon to be declared Natura 2000 sites) – the Mrtvica River and the Mala Rjeka.

An entire fisheries-based economy that currently supports more than 600 families around Lake Skadar is also under threat. Very rare endemic species of trout could disappear and the fishery of Lake Skadar, mostly based on carp, could shrink by 30% – with a loss of some €1.5 million in annual fishing revenues.

A major hydropower investor in South-East Europe, the Norwegian company Statkraft, has also expressed concern. Statkraft originally considered developing hydropower projects on the Morača River, but is also now expressing growing concern.

“Before investing we want to ensure that the proposed dam designs are environmentally friendly and support social and economic development in addition to being cost effective,” said Bredo Erichsen, Managing Director of Statkraft Albania.

“Statkraft applies strict standards in all hydropower development worldwide. This has been our focus in Albania but investing in Montenegro is more uncertain – unless the opportunities to minimise social and environmental impact and optimise cost and production are clarified.”

In December 2008, the Montenegrin government approved the construction of four dams on the Morača River, with the aim of further exploiting the hydropower potential of the country and ensuring energy independence for its population.

“Any new dams must be planned taking into account European Union environmental standards – and assessed to this effect before construction begins,” said Darko Pajovič, Head of WWF’s partner NGO in Montenegro, Green Home.

“We appreciate that a Strategic Environmental Assessment of the four dams is currently being carried out by the Montenegrin government, but we are somewhat concerned about the results of our own studies. We want to believe that our findings will be taken into serious consideration in the planning of the dams, in accordance with EU standards as set out in the Water Framework Directive.”

WWF has been calling on the Montenegrin government since 2007 to respect provisions concerning dams and other water infrastructure under the EU Water Framework Directive to ensure minimal environmental impact. The process must be in compliance with EU standards, and before construction begins it should be proven that the proposed dams are the least environmentally damaging and most cost-effective option – and that no better alternatives are available to meet energy needs in Montenegro.

“Montenegro claims to be a “green state” – and now is the time for the government to show their leadership in the region towards such a commitment,” Antonelli said.