Success! The Hučava River Flows Freely Once Again!
Posted on 29 Jun 2021
The ‘free flowing river revolution’ is coming to Slovakia.
25 June 2021 – WWF-Slovakia removed a barrier on the Hučava River in the middle of Slovakia this week. We will see more and more removals of old river barriers, and more wetland and river floodplain revitalisations in the country in the future. These moves are in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy, according to which Europe aims to make 25,000 kilometres of rivers flow freely by 2030. According to the European Environment Agency, European rivers are among the most fragmented in the world. Barriers are one of the main reasons why 60% of rivers in Europe do not have good ecological status and are a key cause of the decline in freshwater biodiversity. According to the WWF Living Planet Report 2020, average freshwater species populations have seen a steep 84% decline since 1970.
‘Removal of old and useless dams is the best way of freeing a river. It improves its ecological status and biodiversity, and restores the function of the river landscape, including water retention, and thus contributes to addressing the climate crisis. The removal of the barrier on the Hučava is just a beginning. Together with other partners, we are already finalising an evaluation of other river barriers suitable for removal,’ - Miroslava Plassmann, CEO of WWF-Slovakia.
The source of the Hučava River is found in the Poľana Biosphere Reserve, directly below the Veľká Poľana ridge (1458 meters above sea level). From there, it travels 30 kilometres downstream until it connects with the Zolná River. Up to seven fish species can be found in the river, dominated by native species such as brown trout, alpine bullhead or stone loach. Ichthyologic research has also confirmed the occurrence of the the southern barbel (Barbus meridionalis) a ray-finned fish species of EU interest listed in the Habitats Directive. The species was found right below the barrier, a barrier which prevents it from migration upstream to spawn. The site also provides an opportunity to spot the noble crayfish, Eurasian otter, common kingfisher, white-throated dipper, and white or black stork.
‘The barrier on the Hučava River which was removed with the support of public funding and in cooperation with the Slovak Water Management Enterprise was the largest barrier on the river located just below the village of Očová. The barrier made it impossible for aquatic life to pass freely, and created an obstacle for the natural flow of sediments and organic matter. The river up and downstream of Očová can create meanders, has enough space to safely overflow, creates wide gravel benches and reaches depths important for life of various species and water organisms.’- Miroslav Očadlík, Freshwater Manager at WWF-Slovakia.
The first human intervention obstructing the river’s connectivity starts in Očová. The river was straightened out and deepened and the river banks were built up to protect the surrounding buildings. The original meanders have disappeared. Two barriers were built on the river: the first one directly in the village – where a fish pass is planned to be built; and the other, which was just removed, below the village. After the intervention on both barriers, 25 km of the river will be freed.
WWF-Slovakia cooperates on monitoring and evaluation of river barriers with the Slovak Water Management Enterprise and the State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic. The list of barriers suitable for removal contained in the Water Plan of the Slovak Republic will be extended after WWF-Slovakia finalises its reassessment of removal methods.
Over the past 150 years, the Danube basin and its wetlands have been much abused. The main threats to them are unsustainable flood management plans, navigation and hydropower. Moreover, dikes, dams and dredging have straightened large parts of the river. More than 80% of wetlands have been lost, and with them the services they provide, like flood protection, fuel and food.
WWF Central and Eastern Europe (WWF-CEE) promotes integrated river basin management, largely by participating in the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) and contributing to the Danube River Basin Management and Flood Management Plans. Within the EU Danube Strategy and the ICPDR, we work to incorporate WWF positions on wetlands, hydropower, navigation, water economics, flood mitigation and climate change into relevant policies. We also work to evaluate ecosystem services and promote policies and schemes that ensure sustainable economic development. We undertake restoration activities and push decision-makers to fulfil commitments to protect and restore wetlands, especially on the Lower Danube Green Corridor, the Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve, and under the Danube River Basin Management Plan.