Villages alarmed by large dam-building plan

Photo: ŠJů, Creative Commons 3.0

A plan just released by the Agriculture Ministry specifies some 200 locations around the Czech Republic where dams could be built in the future. The document has alarmed the local authorities in many villages around the country which would be affected by future dam construction. Those opposed to the large dam-building project have wasted no time in getting organised and are planning to fight it at the highest level.

The Agriculture Ministry argues that one of the reasons behind the dam-building plan is a recent EU report on climate change which calls on member states to implement changes to their water management. The ministry's plan outlines some 200 locations suitable for dams in order to exclude the areas from other construction plans.

The villages concerned, for instance Paseky nad Jizerou in North Bohemia and Skryje in Moravia, are alarmed and also surprised that they have not been consulted. Their views are shared by the "Stop prehrade" or "Stop the Dam" initiative. Earlier I asked Jan Beranek of the initiative to sum up the concerns of the villages.

"Well, the reason is that while at this moment this is a kind of strategic plan which does not necessarily mean building a dam in the near future, if approved by the government by the end of this year, it will have a strong impact on the situation in hundreds of villages. Because obligatorily, it will have to be included in all regional and local planning on the planning zones. It means that in the villages, people will hardly be willing to build new houses, to reconstruct houses, to move in with young families, and this necessarily implies the fact that the villages will be basically dying out."

The ministry argues that in anticipation of possible changes to the climate it is vital to ensure sufficient water retention in this country, and also to prevent floods - which they say could both be achieved by building dams. Do you disagree with that view?

"The reason is that all these things are not necessary at all because the argumentation for the building of these dams is very weak and it has not been scientifically proven. The ministry says that we need all these dams to be able to fight with a climate-induced lack of drinking water on one hand, on the other hand they say that we need these dams to prevent floods, and thirdly they say that we need these dams to increase flow in rivers in order to protect the ecosystems.

"In fact, all these three goals are contradictory to a large extent. You may have a dam that will prevent floods but then the dam will actually have to be empty to catch up the water. In that case the dam cannot serve as a water reservoir for drinking water, for example. All the calculations that end up with the proposed need of 200 dams are, as I'm saying, scientifically unproven, and there are a lot of critics even among scientists and hydrologists who say that this is something that cannot be argued very seriously with."

The government is supposed to approve the plan in December. Jan Beranek of the "Stop the Dam" initiative says he hopes to convince the cabinet not to approve the controversial parts concerning dams and instead launch a broad discussion including the villages concerned.