Paving the way for the removal of 8 dams in Plitvice Lakes National Park

Bijela Rijeka River is of crucial importance for the Plitvice Lakes National Park, this project will focus on the preparation of all necessary conditions for the removal of 8 dams along the Bijela Rijeka River.

Introduction

Plitvice Lakes National Park is the biggest and 1st protected area in Croatia (296,85 kmĀ², established in 1949) and is located in the mountainous part of Croatia. The Park represents an area of a unique karst lake ecosystem that consists from 16 cascade lakes divided into upper and lower lakes. The Park was inscribed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979.

Rivers Bijela and Crna Rijeka form river Matica, which creates the unique ecosystem of lakes.

As one of the two rivers forming the Plitvice Lakes, the 5 km long Bijela Rijeka River is an important habitat for the brown trout (Salmo trutta). However, 8 barriers built over the last century have severely impacted the genetic diversity and migration of the species upstream, as well as the possibility of upstream migration of aquatic invertebrates. Barriers on the Bijela Rijeka River cause habitat fragmentation and disrupt river continuity, changing the overall ecological status of the river by changed chemical processes, flow (accumulations) etc. It is expected that their removal will lead to a significant improvement in the hydromorphological condition and improvement of ecosystem in general.

At a glance

Project typeDam removal (pre-demolition)
Project statusComplete
LocationPlitvice Lakes National Park
CountryCroatia
RiverBijela Rijeka River
Km to be opened5
Key habitatsInland water bodies (standing water, running water), mixed woodland
Focal speciesbrown trout (Salmo trutta)

Project context and opportunity

Since Bijela Rijeka River is of crucial importance for the Plitvice Lakes National Park, this project will focus on the preparation of all necessary conditions for the removal of 8 dams along the Bijela Rijeka River, improving the health of the river, lakes and entire World Heritage Site. As these will be the first dam removals in Croatia, considerable work needs to be done to pave the way for the removals.

It is expected that the project will serve as an example of good practice, encouraging other communities, protected areas, and local governments to join the dam removal movement and look for other dam removal opportunities across Croatia and the region.

The project will be implemented by WWF Adria and Plitvice Lakes National Park authority.

Project aims

Main project activities will include:

  • Collection of critical existing data
  • Implementation of additional studies (geodetic surveys of the 8 obsolete barriers, sediment analysis, hydrological analysis and ichthyologic prospecting)
  • Preparation of a dam removal design that meets the highest environmental standards required for activities in this World Heritage Site and National Park
  • Engagement with the local community, relevant ministries, and the water management authority

Conclusion

The collaboration between the National Park Plitvice Lakes and WWF Adria, supported by the Open Rivers Programme, has led to significant achievement in freshwater ecosystem restoration and biodiversity promotion through dam removal. The project, led by the National Park Plitvice Lakes Public Institution, has made substantial progress in preparing permitting documentation and conducting necessary studies. Knowledge exchange activities were organised to raise awareness about dam removal’s importance and share project outcomes, aiming to inspire wider participation in conservation efforts. This pioneering initiative in Croatia is a model for similar projects in protected areas and beyond, offering valuable insights and best practices for neighbouring countries.

This project was completed in the summer of 2023, and in the winter of 2023, the project team was awarded a follow-up grant (A4 Dam removal: demolition) from the programme to remove all eight barriers.

Partners

WWF Adria

Plitvice Lakes National Park authority