Illegally dumped waste leaves 40-km stretch of Bečva River effectively “dead”

Photo: ČTK/Luděk Peřina

The river Bečva, in Moravia, has been struck by the worst environmental disaster in over a decade. A forty-kilometre stretch of the river near Přerov was contaminated by cyanide from an unknown source several days ago. Since then fishermen have netted over thirty tons of dead fish from the river which experts say has been totally devastated. I spoke to Pavel Vrána from the Czech Fishing Association about the extent of the disaster.  

“The situation is quite serious. Roughly a 40-kilometre stretch of the river was polluted by toxic substances based on cyanide. Basically that stretch has been totally devastated. We have already collected about 32 tons of dead fish and we expect to net more in the coming days. This is the fifth day of the clean-up operation. The pollution started near the city of Choryne and poisoned everything in the river. ”

It obviously wouldn’t be just fish –it likely killed all living things along that stretch, didn’t it?

Photo: ČTK/Luděk Peřina

“Yes, we are just surveying the impact on invertebrates and other species and the extent of the contamination of the basin and we will know more in the coming days.”

Experts have described this stretch of the river as “dead” at the present time. How long may it take for the river to recover?

“It will take decades. This is the worst river pollution we have had in the past ten to fifteen years. For us it is very sad because this river was renaturated and it was one of the best rivers we had. It contained a lot of rheophilic fish species which are typical for this area, it was a rich, natural stock and that’s why it is extremely sad to see it devastated.”

Do we know who caused the damage?

“Unfortunately not, but we hope the police will find the company or individual responsible.”

We have seen cases similar to this one, although not as big, where companies illegally dump waste in rivers. Do you feel that the fines are too small to deter people from such actions?

Bečva,  photo: ČTK/Luděk Peřina

“We have experience from previous years when something similar happened in western Bohemia and I think that the fine was quite low. It is a question of the legal system and I hope it will be improved in the near future. This is not damage that can be fixed with money. This is about the natural fish stock and its genetic value.”

And has the toxic spill now been contained?

“We are expecting several days of rain and we hope that at the confluence of the Bečva River and the Morava River the water from Morava River will help dilute and dissolve the substance, so we do not expect more damage in the coming days, although the clean-up operation to remove dead fish from the Bečva river will continue for some time to come.”