Preparation of the removal of 5 migration barriers in the Vindelälven Catchment, Sweden

This project is aimed at preparing the removal of five barriers in three different tributaries of the Vindel River.

Introduction

Within the 1.3-million-hectare Vindelälven-Juhttátahkka UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in northern Sweden, the undammed Vindel River runs for 453 km before entering into the Ume River for the last 30 km to the Baltic Sea. Although technically a tributary itself (with a discharge of 190 m³/s at the mouth), the large river becomes a main stem for many smaller rivers and streams. Along its path, the Vindel River has over 100 long rapids. It passes 25 villages in a sparsely populated waterscape mainly consisting of coniferous forests – much of it pine and spruce plantations managed by heavy clearcut logging methods. Regarding the many tributaries, three in focus for this project, the legacy effect from the last 150 years of forestry has negatively impacted river life. In terms of land management, the negative effects have increased in phase with intensified forestry, but in terms of river morphology the negative effects peaked during the early and mid-20th century when the majority of northern Swedish rivers were straightened and cleared of blocks and boulders to facilitate log transport in times when the forest road network was poorly developed. 

At a glance

Project typeDam removal: per-demolition
Project statusLive
CountrySweden
RiverFräkentjärnsbäcken, Hjuksån, Väsibäcken
Focal speciessalmon, sea trout, burbot, pike, perch, minnow, freshwater pearl mussels
Project websitewww.rewilding-sweden.com

Project context and opportunity

Due to a persistent 50-year battle by the public and environmental organizations, hydropower installations have been avoided in the Vindel River. However, its numerous tributaries have undergone various alterations caused by human activities. Linked to the canalization and clearing of blocks and boulders to minimise structures where the logs could create jams, many dams were installed in tributaries to collect water (thereby energy) in small streams where the natural discharge was insufficient to transport the timber. In recent years, however, multiple partners have made considerable progress in improving the ecological condition of the Vindel River and its tributaries. Still, more work is needed to address rare habitats and remove barriers to fish migration and ecological connectivity. The assessment of five barriers for potential removal, which this project focuses on, is a crucial step towards achieving these goals. 

Project aims

By advancing the positions to get these five dams removed, we aim to eventually restore a natural hydrological and, thereby, ecological connectivity for species and processes (on land and in water) – foremostly longitudinal but also lateral and thereby also gain positive effects on terrestrial stream edge biodiversity. As for fishes, the reconnection of these tributaries to the Vindel River main stem will improve migration for anadromous species needing sea connectivity and reconnect inland freshwaters to facilitate species with potamodromous life cycles. So, apart from increasing connectivity to breeding and refuge habitats, the barrier removals are also expected to resurrect important organismal source-to-sink dynamics, re-establish natural disturbance patterns, improve sediment and nutrient transport pathways, and seed dispersal for riparian vegetation. 

Partners