The first dam removal in Kosovo begins with Mirusha Dam

Creating a path for the first dam removal in Kosovo and catalysing Kosovo's dam removal movement.

Introduction

The Mirusha River Basin is located in central Kosovo, on the eastern side of the Dukagjini Plain. It is the left branch of the “Drini i Bardhe” (White Drin) River, which is Kosovo’s largest River Basin, covering 4,360 km2 or 40% of Kosovo’s area. The Mirusha River Basin covers a catchment area of 337 km2, ranging in altitude from 329 m to 1055 m. The Mirusha River is 37 km long and passes through a gorge known as the Mirusha River Canyon. It creates 12 waterfalls and 16 lakes that present a rare morpho-hydrological phenomenon.

The Mirusha waterfalls are part of a park of significant natural, scientific, cultural, and touristic importance. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the area belongs to the “Protected Landscape” category, and the course of the Mirusha River belongs to the “Natural Monument” category.

The waterfalls of Mirusha are unique in their natural, national, and cultural heritage values. Therefore, protecting this area from external influences and using it sustainably is vital, including developing sustainable tourism to benefit the local community and the region. Within this part of the river lies the Mirusha Dam.

At a glance

Project typeDam removal (pre-demolition)
Project statusComplete
CountryKosovo
RiverMirusha
Km to be opened37
Focal speciesSalmo trutta, Anguilla anguilla, Squailius cephalus, aquatic insect species

Project context and opportunity

The Mirusha Dam was illegally constructed between 2011 and 2013 in the village of Mirusha, Municipality of Malisheva. The rationale behind the construction and ownership of the dam remains unclear. Local communities report that the dam was initially built for hydropower production, and official sources suggest that the Municipality of Malisheva constructed it. The Institute for Nature Protection reported against the project in 2008-2009.  The dam is approximately 8 to 10 meters high, with an impoundment covering an area of about 8 hectares. Although the reservoir is currently used for recreational fishing, the water quality is poor due to the absence of sewage water treatment in the towns and villages located upstream.

The dam is located about 16.5 km downstream of the main spring of the Mirusha River. In the upstream area, some minor weirs have been identified in urban areas where the river is channelized but have not been investigated yet.

The Mirusha Dam is located approximately 13 km upstream of the Mirusha Waterfalls Nature Monument entrance and about 20.5 km from the confluence with the White Drin River. No major dams or artificial barriers on the river’s bed have been identified downstream of the dam.

During the summer of 2020, severe droughts severely impacted the Mirusha waterfalls. Local NGOs and media highlighted potential causes for the lack of water. Several site visits were conducted between August and October 2020 to identify the pressures impacting Mirusha’s freshwater ecosystems. The primary environmental pressures related to human activities include wastewater management, drinking water supply, irrigation, and illegal dam construction.

Project aims

Removing the outdated and unsafe Mirusha Dam is poised to mark a significant milestone in Kosovo’s dam removal efforts. It would be the nation’s inaugural dam removal, thereby unlocking 37km of the river. Its successful demolition is expected to inspire similar initiatives to eliminate other obsolete barriers across the country’s rivers.

Throughout the pre-demolition phase, a concerted effort will be made to establish robust relationships with partners, stakeholders, and local communities, ensuring their unwavering support during demolition. The project aims to foster collaboration for future dam removal endeavours by bringing together experts and stakeholders who typically operate independently.

Additionally, the project seeks to disseminate information about its success to the local and national community, NGOs, and media outlets. This outreach will enhance awareness of the project’s achievements and highlight the detrimental effects of river fragmentation and the advantages of dam removal, thereby encouraging greater participation in barrier removal initiatives.

Given its potential for replication in other countries within the Western Balkans region, the project assumes heightened significance. Removing the Mirusha Dam will not only pave the way for Kosovo’s inaugural dam removal but also catalyze a broader movement to eliminate dams across the country.

Conclusion

The pre-demolition project aimed at removing the Mirusha dam in Kosovo, the first initiative of its kind in the region, encountered initial hurdles. Notably, despite the adverse effects of dams on Kosovo’s rivers, discussions on their removal were unprecedented until now. Through engagements with various institutions, a noticeable shift in perception emerged, with a growing acknowledgement of the feasibility of dam removal. Particularly in Malisheve, resistance softened, fostering constructive dialogues about removal. The project maintained a high academic standard with comprehensive research and reports, including discovering a new spider species, contributing to heightened awareness about dam impact. As decisions from the Ministry of Environment, Spatial Planning, and Infrastructure and the Municipality of Malisheve are awaited, this project signifies focused efforts and significant progress in Kosovo.

Partners