Removal of four barriers, Sweden

Reconnecting tributaries in the Vindelälven Catchment, Northern Sweden by removing of four barriers.

Introduction

Within the 1.3-million-hectare Vindelälven-Juhttátahkka UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in northern Sweden, the undammed Vindel River runs 453 km before entering the Ume River for the last 30 km to the Baltic Sea. Although technically a tributary (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, four are in focus for this project, and the legacy effect from the last 150 years of forestry has negatively impacted river life. Regarding land management, the negative effects have increased with intensified forestry. Still, regarding river morphology, the negative effects peaked during the early and mid-20th century when most 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: demolition
Project statusLive
Removal dateMay 2025
CountrySweden
RiversRuskträskbäcken, Hjuksån, Arvån, Strömbäcken
Km to be opened76,5
Focal speciessalmon, sea trout, burbot, pike, perch, minnow, freshwater pearl mussels
Websitewww.rewilding-sweden.com

Project context and opportunity

Despite a 50-year battle by the public and environmental organisations preventing hydropower installations in the Vindel River, its numerous tributaries have experienced significant alterations due to human activities. These changes are linked to the canalisation and clearing of blocks and boulders to minimise structures where logs could create jams, leading to the installation of many dams in tributaries to collect water for transporting timber. Recently, multiple partners have made significant progress in improving the ecological condition of the Vindel River and its tributaries. However, more work is needed to address rare habitats and remove barriers to fish migration and ecological connectivity. Removing four barriers in this project is crucial to achieving these goals.

Project aims

By removing the four barriers, the project aims to restore the natural hydrological and ecological connectivity for species and processes, both longitudinal and lateral, thereby enhancing terrestrial stream edge biodiversity. For fish, reconnecting these tributaries to the Vindel River main stem will improve migration for anadromous species needing sea connectivity and facilitate species with potamodromous life cycles in inland freshwaters. In addition to increasing connectivity to breeding and refuge habitats, the barrier removals are expected to re-establish important organismal source-to-sink dynamics, natural disturbance patterns, and improve sediment and nutrient transport pathways, as well as seed dispersal for riparian vegetation.

Partners