The proliferation of hydropower plants is a serious threat to biodiversity in Europe, the environmental protection organisation World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned in a new report on Thursday.
Europe has 21,387 hydropower plants while another 8,785 are planned or under construction, WWF said. Some 30% are in protected areas, mostly national parks and natural sites, it added.
In its first inventory of hydropower plants in Europe, WWF noted that rivers are already saturated, whereas rules were laid down by the European Union to limit the number of new structures.
The Fund also highlights the “alarming” increase in small plants, which, however, produce little energy.
Hydropower dams destroy rivers and their environment, fuelling the loss of freshwater biodiversity, WWF observed. Such installations, for example, modify the natural flow of a river, block fishes’ migratory routes, affect the survival of vulnerable species, and trap the sediment that protects riverbanks during floods.
The study provides “damming evidence” of governments’ failure to protect rivers and biodiversity, the WWF added.
Under an EU framework directive on water, all Member States need to ensure that their rivers are in good health by 2027, but hydro dams are a “major obstacle” to attaining that goal, the organisation noted.
Most of the planned hydro projects relate to the Balkans, while the problem is limited in Belgium. According to WWF, the country has 155 hydro plants and plans to install seven new ones.