Rivers – The impact of European-financed small hydropower plants on pristine Balkan landscapes

Within the context of the Blue Heart of Europe campaign, the NGO Bankwatch visited eight recently constructed small hydropower plants in Albania, Macedonia and Croatia. All of them were financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB). In a nutshell, the projects have damaged biodiversity and are in urgent need of increased monitoring and restoration measures. All findings are published in this Bankwatch report. If you always wanted to know whether 'small' is actually 'beautiful' when it comes to hydropower, find out the truth in this study.

Broken Rivers - Full Study



Hydropower development in the Balkans: data update 2017

Every two years, we analyze the situation of hydropower development in the Balkans, updating the data of existing and planned hydropower plants as well as those currently under construction. Moreover, we assess how many of these projects are located in protected areas. This 2017 data update makes the extent of the threat to the Blue Heart of Europe visible: Currently, 2,796 hydropower plants are in the planning phase, 188 are under construction, while another 1,004 plants are already operating. 1,031 (or 37%) of the planned dams are projected to be built in protected areas with high protection status (118 of which in national parks, 547 in Natura 2000 areas). What this means in comparison to the 2015 data set you can read in the summary below

2017 Data Set Summary
Collection of graphs


Graphs by country:

Albania Bosnia & Herzegovina Macedonia Serbia
Kosovo Bulgaria Slovenia Croatia
Montenegro Greece Turkey  



Sava White Book – The River Sava: Threats and Restoration Potential 

The Sava is one of the most interesting and complex rivers in Europe. Along its course of 926 kilometres, the Sava features the entire spectrum of different rivers habitats. Together with tributaries, the Sava basin constitutes one of the best preserved and most diverse river systems in Europe. Unfortunately, like so many other European rivers, the Sava stands at a crossroad: on the one hand improving the ecological condition of water bodies is a clearly defined goal of the European Union. On the other hand, flood protection, recreational use and transport capacities, etc. are to be increased as well. Moreover, hydropower developments, sediment exploitation and navigation upgrades put further strain on the river.

In which direction is the Sava going? This is the very question we asked ourselves within the context of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign. Our answer is this White Book. It shall serve as an extensive and comprehensive overview of the situation of the Sava. However, what makes this White Book truly unique is that it is the first study offering suggestions for area-specific ecological flood control and river restoration projects. In other words, we show where former alluvial areas could be naturally flooded once again and in which sections the Sava’s river bed should be given more space.

Sava White Book – Full Study
Sava White Book – Map Annex

Sava White Book – Croatian Executive Summery



Financing for hydropower in protected areas in Southeast Europe

Southeast Europe is experiencing a wave of hydropower projects. In a region with a deadly combination of Europe's last wild rivers, rampant corruption and inadequate nature protection, the potential for damage is immense. A recent study by Dr Ulrich Schwarz (see study "Hydropower Projects in Protected Areas on the Balkans" below) found that almost half of the planned projects are in protected areas. This research aims - to the extent possible given the secrecy around the financial sector - who are the main actors involved in financing hydropower projects in the region, both overall and inside of protected areas. The extensive analysis shows that multilateral development banks are playing a key role. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) have extended loans totalling EUR 818 million to no less than 75 hydropower projects, including 30 directly affecting protected areas like national parks, Natura 2000 sites, and Ramsar sites.

!!! Update January 2017 !!!
The EBRD has said that financing has been cancelled for four small hydropower plants in Macedonia: Zrnovska reka 1, Zrnovska reka 2, Estericka reka, Kadina reka. In addition, financing has been cancelled for the 68 MW Boskov Most plant in the Mavrovo National Park, also in Macedonia. Regarding the Ternove SHPP in Albania, the EBRD has said that it had conducted an on-site investigation into the concerns received in a letter from an affected citizen. The bank found nothing to substantiate the allegations. Bankwatch will continue to monitor the issue.



Hydropower Projects on the Balkan Rivers – Update

In a follow-up study of the initial "Hydromorphological Status and Dam Projects" study from 2012 (U. Schwarz), we included small hydropower plants as well, when previously only those over 1 MW were recorded. A total of 2,683 future hydropower projects have been recorded on the Balkan Peninsula.  Additionally, 714 existing dams were found in this region. Based on four size categories the 2,683 planned HPPs are distributed as follows: 68 very large projects (> 50 MW), 178 large projects (10-50 MW), 867 medium projects (1-<10 MW) and 1,570 small projects (0.1-< 1 MW) were identified.

Hydropower Projects on the Balkan Rivers – Update - Full Study



entire region Slovenia Croatia Bosnia & Herzegovina
Serbia Montenegro Kosovo Albania
Macedonia Bulgaria Greece Turkey




Hydropower Projects in Protected Areas on the Balkans

This study aims to quantify the number of hydropower projects that are planned within protected areas on the Balkan Peninsula. A total of 1,640 projected hydropower plants (HPPs) have been examined based on a detailed and categorized network of protected areas. A total of 535 planned projects or 32 % fall in strictly protected areas. In addition, 282 HPPs (17 %) are projected inside other protected areas with a weaker protection status. Altogether, 817 or 49% of all projected HPPs fall in protected areas, which points to the fact that this practice is the rule rather than an exception. This indicates a very high pressure of hydropower on protected sites.

Hydropower Projects in Protected Areas on the Balkans - Full Study

Hydropower Projects in Protected Areas on the Balkans - English Summary

Hydropower Projects in Protected Areas on the Balkans - German Summary

Hydropower Projects in Protected Areas on the Balkans - Slovenian Summary

Hydropower Projects in Protected Areas on the Balkans - Croatian Summary

Hydropower Projects in Protected Areas on the Balkans - Albanian Summary

Hydropower Projects in Protected Areas on the Balkans - Macedonian Summary


Hydropower Projects in all Protected Areas - MAP

Hydropower Projects in National Parks - MAP

Hydropower Projects in Ramsar/Biosphere Reserves/UNESCOWorld Heritage Nature Sites - MAP

Hydropower Projects in Natura2000 Sites - MAP

Hydropower Projects in Nature Reserves and EMERALD Sites - MAP

Hydropower Projects in other protected areas - MAP



The Huchen Hucho hucho in the Balkan region

Distribution and future impacts by hydropower development

The Huchen or Danube Salmon is one of the most enigmatic species of Europe's freshwater fauna. It is a sensitive indicator species for some of the most ecologically valuable rivers in the Danube drainage. Historically, the species was wide-spread across the entire Danube basin. Since the late 19th century, however, Huchen populations declined by two thirds and the remaining populations are now highly endangered by hydropower development. But knowledge on the distribution of the Huchen on the Balkan Peninsula has been incomplete.

Within the context of the international campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe”, 18 scientists from 7 countries explored for the first time, in which rivers between Slovenia and Montenegro the Huchen can still be found. The results clearly show that the Balkan rivers constitute the last big hot spot for this species. Self-sustaining populations of Huchen were found in 43 rivers with a total length of 1,842 kilometres. This corresponds to 65 percent of all known Huchen stretches worldwide. However, 93 hydropower plants are projected directly in stretches with healthy Huchen populations. Experts predict a population decline of up to 70%, if these dams become reality.

The Huchen Hucho hucho in the Balkan region - Full Study

The Huchen Hucho hucho in der Balkan region -  English Summary

The Huchen Hucho hucho in the Balkan region  - German Summary

The Huchen Hucho hucho in the Balkan region - Slovenian Summary

The Huchen Hucho hucho in the Balkan region - Croatian Summary

The Huchen Hucho hucho in der Balkan region - Maps    jpg map 1   jpg map 2

Huchen Gallery



Compliance of HPP Plans in Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia with EU legislation

The compliance with EU legislation and guidelines of all hydropower projects inside the Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia  was analyzed by the Ökobüro - an environmental alliance based in Austria. Legal experts conclude that the projects strongly violate EU law. Particularly alarming is the lack of environmental data leading to false and misleading environmental assessments. Another important aspect is that the cumulative effects of several projects planned in the area (a total of 22 hydropower facilities!) would have had to be considered before even starting project permitting procedures. This was not the case.

Find the study here: Nature destruction under the guise of energy security? Analysing EU law compliance of HPP Plans in Mavrovo NP in Macedonia



Hydromorphological Status and Dam Projects

In preparation for this campaign, the hydromorphology (the structural intactness of the river) of about 35,000 river kilometers on the Balkan Peninsula has been assessed. The results were impressive: 30% of the Balkan rivers are in a pristine state, another 50% are in a good condition or only moderately modified. In other words, almost 80% of 35,000 river kilometres are in a very good, good or acceptable morphological condition. That is the highest percentage in all of Europe.

An extensive research was also done on the proposed and planned dam projects in the Balkan region.

Find the study about the hydromorphology and the dam projects here:

Balkan River Assessment Executive Summary
Balkan River Assessment
Balkan River Assessment River Catalogue

Also, country specials have been compiled:

Slovenia Croatia Bosnia & Herzegovina Serbia
Montenegro Kosovo Albania Macedonia
Bulgaria Greece Turkey  



Balkan fish and molluscs

The Balkan region is Noah’s Ark for Europe. Europe’s fly fishers have known it all along, but now there is scientific proof: the Balkan region is the most important hotspot for threatened fish species in Europe. This is also true for freshwater bivalves and freshwater snails.

In his study, renowned fish expert Dr Jörg Freyhof verified the importance of Balkan rivers for Europe’s fauna. 69 fish species can only be found in the Balkan region (endemic types). 28% of endangered freshwater fish species find habitat in these rivers. The percentage is even higher in regards to bivalves and snails: over 40% of all endangered mollusc species in Europe can be found here.

Here is another fact: if the dams are being built, underwater biodiversity will be reduced drastically. 75% of all fish species and 70% of bivalves and snails would not be able to adapt to the new environment and would either die or decrease significantly in numbers.

Threatened freshwater fishes and molluscs