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In Spain, dam removal has been increasing in the past decade. Water oversight committees, municipalities, and, above all, anglers and environmental groups are pressing for healthier ways to manage rivers.
Almost all of the demolitions in Spain have been of small dams, but some larger dams are currently under review, such as Alcalá del Río and Cantillana dams in Seville, which eliminated the sturgeon population in the Guadalquivir River; and the Palombera Dam on the Nansa River, which caused the extinction of local salmon runs. These dams are safety risks as well. So far, no success: they are mammoths, and will not go down easily.
Presa de Palombera on the Nansa River, Spain, is under review for demolition in 2009 (Courtesy of Pedro Brufao, Rios con Vida)
In the past decade, around 50 dams have been torn down in Spain, mainly on northern rivers, for two purposes: to eliminate the risk of floods, and to protect salmon stocks. Water oversight committees are in charge of reforming the water permit process to abide by the EU Water Framework Directive. So far, in the North Basin, more than 6,100 water permits have been cancelled and 38 small dams have been removed. The last dam to be removed was the Presa de Rubeiras on the Eo River, whose Atlantic salmon stock had dwindled to a rate too low to ensure survival. This hydropower dam was bought by the North Basin Water Body and decommissioned this summer.
New demolitions are scheduled in 2009 near the city of Oviedo, to reduce flooding and allow salmon to migrate upstream to spawning areas.
The Bidasoa river system, on the frontier between France and Spain in Basque country, has had five dams demolished for environmental purposes in the past two years. Nearly 500 water permits in this basin have been cancelled to protect salmon and brown trout. This river is blocked a hundred times in 120 kilometers.
Elsewhere around Spain, numerous dam removals are planned, including:
- Two dams in the Güeña River in the National Park of “Picos de Europa” will be removed shortly.
- In the South near Seville, the Guadaira River suffers from high levels of pollutants, and reduced flows from 95 dams on its mainstem; 25 of them will be decommissioned.
- Near Madrid, an abandoned dam was removed in 2007 to restore riparian habitat in the regional park of Manzanares River.
- One more hydropower dam will be removed next year to free 40 km of river in the province of Cáceres, and restore trout populations.
Around 100 new removals are planned by the “Estrategia Nacional de Restauración de Ríos,” passed by the Ministry of the Environment.
We will continue to work to restore even more of Spain’s rivers through dam removal, using the new tools to protect water resources under the EU and nationally. The law is helpful, but the definitive weapons are political and social pressure. It takes a village to protect a river!
Watch a documentary on the effort to restore the Bidasoa River.