WWF urges Poland to reconsider damming the Vistula River

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and a network of Polish NGOs, have urged the government of Poland to suspend a large-scale damming project on the Vistula - one of the last big free-flowing rivers, and among of the most important ecological corridors in Europe.

Despite its great potential for nature conservation, recreation and tourism, sustainable economic use, and natural flood protection, the Vistula, known as “the Queen of Polish rivers”, faces an immediate threat, says WWF. The Polish government is about to approve the “Cascade Project”, aimed at building seven new dams on the lower course of the river. The project is currently budgeted at 3 to 5 billion US dollars.

According to WWF, the completed project would not only destroy the unique dynamics of the river and habitats of European importance for breeding and migrating birds, but also prevent any environmentally-based development. It could also pave the way towards construction of the large- scale east-west waterway that is proposed for EU funding as part of the TransEuropean Transport Network. This, says WWF, would devastate the Oder, Warta, Vistula, and Bug rivers, and their associated wetlands.

The groups are calling on the Polish government to delay any decision about the project and other river engineering proposals on the Vistula until the following measures are taken:

  • Thoroughly consider the environmental and socio-economic consequences of alternative schemes to the “Cascade Project”, including the so-called “zero-option”;
  • Ensure that all decision making on the Vistula’s future is open, transparent, and participative;
  • Develop an environmentally sound vision for the entire Vistula based on the Ramsar “wise use” concept of sustainable river management;
  • Consider all decisions on the future of the Vistula within the context of Poland’s application for EU accession, and in particular, compliance with the EU Habitats and Birds Directives;
  • Undertake a full assessment of the likely ecological impacts of the proposed east-west waterway scheme, thus fulfilling obligations to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands;
  • Designate and manage a network of protected areas to conserve the Vistula, including the proposed Ramsar site in the Middle Vistula.

“A wisely managed and carefully protected Vistula could become an important environmental asset and economic engine for the local communities, the City of Warsaw, and the entire Polish nation, ” Dr Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International, said in a letter to the Polish Prime Minister, Mr. Jerzy Buzek.

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