Bosnia-Herzegovina. Hydropower plant threatens one of Europe’s rarest fish

Il progetto della società austriaca Kelag potrebbe compromettere un habitat unico e la sopravvivenza del salmone del Danubio.

The Sana is a fascinating river rich in marine life that flows through Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to the legend, it is named for the healing properties of its waters. The river also represents the habitat of one of Europe’s rarest freshwater fish, the Danube Salmon (Hucho hucho).


Danube Salmons in the Sana Rivers
Two specimens of Danube Salmon (Hucho hucho) swimming in the Sana River, Bosnia-Herzegovina © Clemens Ratschan


The species is threatened with extinction and only lives in mountain rivers of the Danube basin. These animals, up to 1.5 metres long, need fast and fresh rivers, and are protected by international and European agreements. However, the destiny and the ecosystem of this species seem to be doomed.


The Austrian Kelag group, specialised in the production and distribution of electricty and natural gas, has started the construction of a hydroelectric power station on the Sana River. The project’s huge environmental effects have been denounced during a press conference held in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on 27 November. It was organised under the international campaign Save the Blue Heart of Europe, aimed to protect Balcans’ rivers and raise public awareness on the threat of the construction of 2,700 new dams.


Hydroelectric plant Sana River
Constructing a hydropower plant on the Sana River © Za vode Podgorice


Alongside the hydroelectric plant, the Austrian company has announced it will realise two more dams downstream. The assessment of the environmental impact carried out by scientists leaves no doubt: the Sana River is one of the six most important rivers for the globally threatened fish species.


“Together with only a few other rivers, the Sana provides the backbone of the remaining Danube salmon population in Europe,” says Belma Kalamujić from the Sarajevo University. “These rivers must remain unobstructed by hydropower plants”. Belma Kalamujić, together with other scientists, signed a letter of protest against Kelag’s project, addressed to the country’s government and the European Commission.


Riverwatch activists. The organisation fights for the protection of Europe’s rivers © Luka Tomac


Besides the environmental damage, the Sana River’s defacement will also affect local populations economically . Indeed, the river represents a tourist destination and locals profit from it without destroying it.


Paradoxically, whilst the hydropower plant’s construction is destroying the habitat of salmons, millions of euros are spent by the European Union to protect other populations belonging to this species, particularly in Austria.


According to a research carried out by Riverwatch, organisation that fights for the safeguard of European rivers, about 45 million euros have been invested from 1999 to date for the restoration Austrian rivers populated by the Danube Salmon.


Sana River
The Sana River is one of the six most important rivers for the globally threatened fish species © Luka Tomac


“If this weren’t so dramatic, it would almost be worth a laugh,” said Riverwatch activist Ulrich Eichelmann. “While millions are spent to fix the mistakes of the past in Austria and other EU countries, companies like Kelag are making the same mistakes all over again on the Balkans and are destroying the best rivers as well as rare, threatened species. This needs to stop”.

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