The Gabcikovo Dam 10 years on

Gabcikovo dam, photo:

The huge Gabcikovo dam on the Slovak stretch of the river was launched in 1992. At the time environmentalists warned of devastating damage and said poor construction posed a danger for people living nearby. So 10 years later, has the controversy died down? And what's been the impact on the local people?

To this day the Gabcikovo dam is the largest waterworks on the Danube. The complex, which also includes water sports facilities and locks, is often praised in terms of the electricity it produces and its effect on the surrounding area. However, Mr Michal Kravcik, the chairman of the NGO People and Water which campaigns for the protection of natural water sources, believes the dam has a negative effect on water reserves:

"Gabcikovo is going to have a long-term negative effect on the quality and quantity of groundwater. The previously natural water system around the floodplain forests has changed because most of the water is re-directed through side-canals. The original water flow has been disrupted, and the quality of the groundwater will continue to deteriorate."

The World Wildlife Fund claims the dam is also responsible for damage to the surrounding floodplain forests and the negative changes to the flora and fauna of the region. Mr Jan Blahuta, the director of the waterworks, disagrees:

"The opposite is true. The population of cormorants has grown rapidly over the past few years. There is a need to decrease the number because they have become a threat to the fish population. We also have some black storks, white herons and about 40 different species of fish common in this section of the Danube."

Some experts say the devastating floods suffered by the Czech Republic and Austria last year were only avoided in Slovakia because of the dam controlling the flow of water down the river. Mr Kravcik of the NGO People and Water has a different opinion:

"It's very risky to say the dam saved the country from more serious flooding. I personally think the opposite is true. If the water surface had not been raised by the dam, the flood wave would not have had such a dramatic effect around Bratislava."

During the floods dozens of leakages were discovered along the dam. Around 4 hundred soldiers took part in the repairs as well as hundreds of local people, fearful of all their worldly possessions being washed away by the river. The reconstruction of the dam will require about 18 million EUR. Mr Kravcik again:

"Several incidents prove that the dam was not constructed in the most suitable way. The communist regime before 1989 wanted the locks to be the biggest in the world. To this end, the lock gates were not designed in a traditional way. Damage was caused by flood waves hitting the gates and going into the locks, damaging the statics of the whole construction"

10 years down the line, experts still disagree on the effects of dam and its operation is just as controversial as ever. However, Julius Binder, one of Gabcikovo's designers, to this day defends the damming of the Danube:

"I don't think I did the wrong thing by damming the Danube. I think the people who complain are in the minority. We should take no notice of them and carry on as we have done since 1992."