Dam Removal works (2009-2014) Glines dam (64m) Elwha River, Washington DC, USA (photo credits) John Gussman, Patagonia


Background and aim of the campaign

Rivers are the most endangered habitats on Earth. No other habitat type has been so drastically impaired in the past 50 years - not forests, not even oceans. Rivers are being channelled, polluted, dammed. This is particularly true in European watercourses. Fortunately, a process of rethinking has already started and rivers and creeks are being restored within the EU: They are being liberated from their artificial corset and given more space on each side of their course.

However, a significant element of river restoration – arguably the most important one – has not received any consideration yet: thousands of hydropower plants and weirs in our rivers (Map hydropower plants Alpine Region) are severely impairing life in rivers and are ultimately preventing the recovery of our watercourses. We want to change that!

Conservation status of (a) species and (b) habitats (Habitats Directive) associated with river and lake ecosystems. Source: EEA, 2015, State of nature in the EU, Abb. 4.35

Decline of species in the period from 1970 to 2012: Terrestrial species (-38%), Freshwater species (-81%), Marine species  (-36%). Source: WWF/ZSL, Living Planet Index Report 2016


Our Goals

With the “Remove the Dams – Free our Rivers” campaign, Riverwatch and the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung want to promote the de-damming movement in Europe. For this purpose, we are collecting the necessary data (questionnaire) and promote the issue through public outreach. Within one year, we want to draft a list of the TOP 50 dam projects to be removed. In the medium term, we intend to implement concrete dam removal projects.

Spain: Inturia dam (12m) before removal: out of use and filled with sediments (photo credits) Basque Water Authority

Step by step removal of Intura dam (2013-2016), after removal fish community recovered and spawning grounds are accessible again, Transboundary project Spain-France-Andorra, co-financed by EU - FEDER (photo credits) Basque Water Agency


  1. The removal of dams is an essential measure/ in river restoration and is to be intensified and promoted;
  2. the demolition of a dam has to be considered and reviewed (ecologically and economically) as a variant when hydropower plants are renovated;
  3.  In the frame of dam concession extensions the removal of dams is to be included in the decision making process.
  4. Subsidies for small hydropower plants are to be stopped.


How to implement our campaign



We will send out an online questionnaire to NGOs, river initiatives, fly fishers, kayak associations and other river lovers requesting suggestions of particularly harmful dams. We want to identify the dams which should be removed in the people´s point of view. The list will then be analysed by experts who will prioritize certain dams. This way, we will come up with a list of 50 most important dams to be demolished.


Critical assessment of dam concession extensions

Many old dams and hydropower plants have concessions which will expire in the coming years. This is an ideal moment to demand the dismantling of these dams. In other EU countries (exp. Spain and France), this is already an established practice. We ask our decision-makers that the demolition variant must also be checked in the decision-making process when dams are renovated or their concessions extended.


Uncover the environmental damage caused by dams

We will make the negative effects of dams visible, for example in the form of actions, media work and lobbying. In doing so, we are working together with citizens' initiatives and NGOs on the ground and we will profit from our local and international network.


Join forces

We want to accomplish our campaign goals together with NGOs and other river organisations, which are already involved in dam removal projects in Europe or are interested in this issue. Riverwatch is part of the Dam Removal Europe platform, which is promoting dam removal within the EU since 2016.

Participants of the Dam Removal workshop in Leon, Spain, 2016 © EU Dam Removal

More information on the European Dam Removal platform can be found at damremoval.eu

Dam removal database Europe

Whenever dams or weirs are being removed we report it to the EU Dam Removal platform, which is operating a pan-European database. Data from Spain, UK, Sweden and Finland can already be found on the online map.


When is a dam a dam?

In principle, any transverse structure (that is, any structure that is constructed across the river) that hinders fish and water insect migration is problematic and should be removed. For the sake of efficiency and practicability, we are concentrating on dams and weirs of at least a height of one meter. The type of use – whether it is for hydropower, river regulation or irrigation – does not play a role in the selection of our TOP 50. To water organisms and sediments, it makes no difference what use these obstacles have, so it makes no difference to us as well!

The small hydropower plant Brives was scheduled for removal in order to open the river for fish migration as stipulated in the "Loire River Basin Plan - Plan Loire Grandeur Nature” © SOS-Loire-Vivante, ERN France

Dam decommissioning works  2003 © SOS-Loire-Vivante-ERN France

One year after removal the river is getting back to its free course © SOS-Loire-Vivante-ERN France

Focus area – where shall dams be removed?

Our campaign focus lies on the Alpine and the Balkan regions, since the highest number of dams are located in the Alps (have a look on the map of hydropower plants and other barriers on the alpine rivers) and we have the best set of data for these regions at our disposal. Furthermore, we have an extensive network of local experts and river organization in these two regions. However we are open to include dam removal candidates also from other countries in our list.



Any questions?

To many people, our “Remove the Dams“ campaign might sound crazy or provocative, especially in light of the current climate change debate. We are not trying to be crazy or provocative, we are merely interested in protecting and restoring the most endangered habitat type on earth - our rivers!

Answers to most frequently asked questions about this topic, like:

  • Don’t we need more, not less hydropower plants?
  • Can’t we just green up hydropower by adding fish ladders?
  • Removing dams – is that even possible?
  • Is it legal to take down dams?
  • Why even bother to remove dams, what are the advantages of dam removal?

Can be found in our dam removal concept paper! here !

Twenty years ago, what was considered an insane spinning of some environmental activists became reality in 2012-2014 - the Glines dam was removed! © John Gussman, Patagonia

„Elwha Be Free" painted on the Glines dam during a de-damming action in 1994 © Mikal Jakubal, Patagonia