Water is the main issue of the time we live in, and the protection of rivers is crucial in the coming years and decades.
This is the message of the Conference on River Protection organized in Zadar by The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental organization based in Arlington, USA.
Zadar County was not chosen as the host of the conference by chance; in that region is the river Krupa, whose landscape has been protected as a cultural asset since 2019.
The coexistence of the local community and that river is one of several topics discussed at the meeting. Environmental activists from the region, who for years have been warning about the importance of preserving the biodiversity of rivers in their homeland, shared their experiences.
Experiences from Montenegro
Vaso Knežević from the fishing company “Lipljen” and the NGO “Da živi selo” from Pljevlje in Montenegro spoke about the tourist potential of the Ćehotina river, which is viewed from the vantage point above it foreign tourists.
In order to attract them, local non-governmental organizations started promotion and made a video clip with its beauties.
On the other hand, that area is also the energy mining center of Montenegro, says Knežević and emphasizes that for many years everything was subordinated to that fact.
“Forty years ago, people spent time on that river and that river is part of the citizens. Međutim, prije 40 godina počelo je rudarstvo, izmjestili su rijeku van grada – fizički a vremenom i psihički. Other generations came who don’t think about that river, except when they come to throw away something they don’t need,” he says.
Three years ago, Knežević witnessed a massive sinkhole of fish in Ćehotina, which happened when one day the part of the river downstream of the “Pljevlja” thermal power plant, due to the release of slag and ash, was white as milk.
He says that they are trying to protect the part of the river that is upstream from the city.
“Since there are coal reserves in that upper stream as well, even during Yugoslavia there was a plan to use that part as well. I hope that doesn’t happen, and it shouldn’t if a protected area is declared. On one side is the lobby that advocates for these plans, on the other side is us”.
Battle for Buna and Rzav
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the biggest threat to rivers is the construction of small hydropower plants. Adnan Đuliman from the Blagaj Youth Club “Novi val”, an association that, among other things, deals with the protection of the Buna River, talked about this.
They do this by opposing the construction of mini-hydroelectric plants on the Bunski canals, whose travertine structures are an important habitat for many aquatic plant and animal species. Realization of the mentioned plans, experts warn, would lead to disruption of the eco system. Recently, in July 2022, the Agency for the Water Area of the Adriatic Sea rejected the request to issue a consent for the abstraction of water for the production of electricity.
“One of the best things that could have happened to us was those hydroelectric plants that were planned. It may sound a little unbelievable, but these plans have encouraged the public and the local community to take an interest in the protection of the river. “If that hadn’t happened, I don’t know what the area would look like today,” says Đuliman.
Nataša Milivojević from the Ecological Association Rzav from Arilje in Serbia also says that building relations with the local community is an important aspect of the river conservation process.
“For as many years as we have been working on protection, we have been working with people all the time to reduce conflicts, misunderstandings and fears, together with the Institute for Nature Protection, which has helped us a lot in our work. The point is to get people involved management of these areas,” he says.
Milivojević also witnessed the recent fish disaster in the Moravica river. The cause of this was the release of water from the reservoir from the Brusnik mini-hydroelectric plant, which is why criminal charges were filed.
“We had a problem with poaching, and now one of our biggest challenges is finding a balance between mass tourism on the one hand, and protecting the region on the other,” Milivojević says.
Campaign for the preservation of rivers
At the meeting in Zadar, the campaign that The Nature Conservancy will start this year in the region was announced, which relates to the protection of the rivers Ćehotina, Bistrica, Morača, Mrtvice, Vrbas, Neretva, Buna, Trebižat, Veliki Rzav , Radika and Vardar.
The main goal, the organization said, is the protection of the most important rivers in the region, while the secondary goal is to strengthen the local community’s awareness of their importance.
THIS TEXT WAS CO-FINANCED BY THE EUROPEAN UNION FROM THE EUROPEAN MARITIME AND FISHERIES FUND