Small barriers on side-arms of the Bela River

Taking the preparatory steps needed to remove two small dams on the side arms of the Bela River that impact important nursery habitats in this Natura 2000 area.

Introduction

The Bela River in Slovakia is known as one of the last wild rivers in Central Europe. It springs in the mysterious and deep Tatra Mountain valleys of Ticha and Koprova, flows under the mountain slopes and joins the Vah River near Liptovsky Hradok town. The word Bela refers to its wild flow of turbulent, white-foaming water. Bela is a unique braided mountainous river and a part of the European network of the most valuable sites of common interest (Natura 2000). Many documentary films have been made about the Bela River, including the movie “Living river” by Erik Baláž.

However, two small dams are located on the side arms of the Bela River. They are impacting important nursery habitats for fish and other species and preventing lateral dynamics of the side arm. Removal will open these areas with important fine mineral sediments and organic matter, which are naturally missing in the main channel.

At a glance

Project typeDam removal: pre-demolition
Project statusComplete
CountrySlovakia
RiverBela
Km to be opened2
Key habitatsSpawning grounds
Focal speciesgrayling, brown trout, brook trout
Project websiteWWF Slovakia

Project context and opportunity

Although the Bela River is mostly free-flowing, some places are disconnected, worsening its condition and the surrounding mountainous landscapes. In cooperation with local people, WWF Slovakia identified two unnecessary barriers close to each other but on separate side arms. Removing these two barriers will create 2 km of free-flowing river on the side arms and help restore one of the last free-flowing rivers in Slovakia.

Originally, the dams served as a water gauging station built by a state hydrogeological survey enterprise that no longer exists.  Removing small barriers on side arms will complement the actions in the larger river basin to eliminate as many threats as possible. These larger actions include the integrated LIFE Living Rivers project (with WWF SK as a partner) that started in January 2023. Within this project, ramps on the confluence with Vah River will be adjusted, enabling fish migration from Vah River to the Bela River. Opening of side arms will support the restored natural fish stock.

Project aims

This project includes the preparatory works required before removing the two Bela River barriers. The project team will conduct a stakeholder analysis and technical design and gather the permits necessary for removal. Ichthyological monitoring will also be carried out before the removal. Demolition of the barriers is envisaged to be funded by individual donors.

This specific case will be used to identify legal gaps that prevent dam removal and suggest improvement of Slovak Act on Waters, which will be the added value of the whole project.

Read their blog piece to learn more about this project and the Bela River.

Conclusion

Significant progress has been achieved throughout the various milestones of the project from December 2022 to December 2023. The stakeholder analysis was successfully completed, involving key entities such as the Water Authority, State Nature Conservancy, landowners, Local Angling Association, and the municipality. Positive engagements were established, and preliminary discussions paved the way for collaborative efforts.

The technical design and study phase saw completion. The meticulous process included tender preparation, market surveys, and collaboration with Enviproject, resulting in a finalised technical design and study. This documentation was pivotal for obtaining the necessary permits.

Pre-removal monitoring included conducting ichthyological monitoring and additional hydromorphological and biological assessments. Positive results, including the absence of invasive species and the discovery of a Red List species, underscored the importance of the project in preserving unique ecosystems.

The milestone for obtaining permits was accomplished with positive opinions received from infrastructure administrators and necessary permits granted by the Water Authority, National Park administration, Slovak Fishing Association, and infrastructure authority. Sediment analysis results further supported the project’s environmental safety.

Looking ahead, the project is poised for further action, with plans to wait for a more favourable political climate before proceeding with barrier removal. The accomplishments achieved in 2023 lay a solid foundation for the project’s future success, contributing to the conservation and restoration of the Bela River basin.

Partners

WWF Slovakia