Scaling up dam removal: implementation plan for South-Eastern Europe

Overcome obstacles hindering dam removal progress in South Eastern Europe and accelerate the dam removal movement by expanding the knowledge base, influencing policy changes, enhancing communication and awareness, and ultimately making barrier removal a standard practice.

Introduction

Dam removals are proven to be a fast and cost-effective solution with lasting benefits to communities and nature. There are thousands of barrier removal projects across Europe that have shown environmental, economic and social benefits and yet dam removal has not become a mainstream practice in many countries and in particular many CEE and Balkan regions.  

Considering the high ecological potential, with several aquatic biodiversity hotspots and extensive Natura 2000 networks of the region, Dam Removal Europe (DRE), led by the World Fish Migration Foundation (WFMF), initiated this project together with regional partners, from Croatia, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, to address several obstacles hindering the progress of dam removals (DR).  

  These include addressing the: 

  • Lack of expertise to catalyse and develop opportunities and plans; 
  • Low number of organisations & river managers developing dam removal projects in the region; 
  • Current laws that do not provide clear opportunities for DR; 
  • Lack of known funding sources for DR; 
  • Lack of solid narratives to increase awareness; 
  • High number of key people who are unaware, misinformed or do not care about DR. 

By addressing these problems, we will: 

  • Build of movement of organisations with much needed know-how about dam removals and how to catalyse and develop opportunities in their countries,  
  • Build a pipeline of dam removals ready for implementation and Open River Programme applications, 
  • Create enabling policies that will improve integration of DR into relevant legislation, regulations and administrative procedures, ensuring that EU legal obligations and targets (such as from the Nature Restoration Law and Water Framework Directive) are incorporated into regional commitments.   
  • Create opportunities to fund and develop bigger DR projects  
  • Develop solid narratives and a communication channel process to share these narratives, which will promote top down and bottom-up communication and exchanges between global, European, national and local levels to gain support from various target audiences. 

At a glance

Focal areasCroatia, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and scaling up to SE Europe
Focal impact-based activityBuilding the DR movement in SE Europe, working on developing supportive policies, sharing knowledge and expertise and generating support from stakeholders and public.
Primary project outcomeThe primary outcome is to develop enabling conditions where we can identify 100 potential dams that can be removed and help the process to execute those removals.
Project typeEnabling the dam removal movement
Project timelineSeptember 2023 – July 2026
Project websitehttps://worldfishmigrationfoundation.com/portfolio-item/scaling-up-dr-se-europe
Project statusLive

Project aims

The goal is to accelerate the dam removal movement in South Eastern (SE) Europe by addressing the problems outlined above. To achieve this, we will focus on the following for each of the ORP priority topics: 

A. Knowledge development & dissemination: 

  • Develop a dam removal network in SE; 
  • Identify 100 potential dams that can be removed and help the process to execute those removals; 
  • Provide dam-removing organisations with how-to knowledge through developing a community of practice, helpdesk and a twinning programme.   

B. Policy Advocacy: 

  • Advocate for the incorporation of DR into national policies and legislation in Croatia, Greece, Romania & Slovakia; 
  • Review of legislative frameworks, identification of key roadblocks in DR process & consultation with relevant decision makers for implementation of DR into legislation. 

C. Communication & Awareness raising:  

  • Develop solid narratives about the benefits of DR with good case studies and communication materials. These will be shared with partner networks and the DRE network so they can also use them to increase awareness about DR with their target audiences (policymakers, river managers, funders, the general public); 
  • Celebrate dam removal throughout the project including the first Dam Removal Day in April 2025; 
  • Encourage funding and active participation from various sectors, including the private sector. 

Project impact

The ambition of this project is to accelerate and implement activities that will ensure that river restoration tools are generally accepted and make the removal of unnecessary barriers business as usual in priority countries. We will use this project to scale and boost DR across Europe.  

The expected outcomes include: 

  • Expansion of the dam removal movement by ensuring that new practitioners have the knowledge and tools to select, prepare and implement more dam removal projects. This will lead to more dam removal projects that can be submitted to ORP; 
  • Deeper understanding and knowledge of the situation, roadblocks for barrier removal and solutions to problems in each of the focus countries. This will enable practitioners to identify opportunities and next steps to solve issues preventing DR; 
  • Pushing for the improvement of legislation so that national policies and legislation no longer block dam removals and facilitate removing barriers in rivers; 
  • Increased awareness about dam removal within the DR network and amongst governments, river managers, the press and the general public. Communication with targeted audiences will improve their knowledge of the benefits of DR and key DR topics relating to Nature Restoration Law, ecological biodiversity, climate, flooding and drought, resulting in less resistance/promotion of DR projects in their region; 
  • Expansion of funding opportunities, from identifying funding sources and encouraging new funding audiences. By identifying new funding sources, we promote bigger project development and commitment from new audiences, such as the private sector; 
  • Transferring and amplifying DR successes to neighbouring countries by utilising the strong transboundary relationships with those countries that have common policy, common issues, shared catchments, common projects and similar mindsets. 

Partners