Pasaules Dabas Fonds has started the demolition of the Beja dam in order to restore the Alūksne river. By making the river free-flowing again, the water quality in the river will improve and open up the migration path for fish and other living organisms. Work on this project has been going on for 3 years and it is planned to be completed by the end of this summer with the restoration of the river banks for local landowners.
The Beja dam is the only dam in the 24-kilometer-long Alūksne river, which, according to experts, was in a state of emergency and was no longer used economically. Once the dam is removed, the entire river will be free-flowing again, allowing fish to migrate and spawn, increasing oxygen levels in the water and improving water quality.
Before the removal work could be started, it was necessary to map the river and carry out electrofishing to determine the state of the existing fish populations below and above the dam. However, one of the most heavy processes before the removal turned out to be the permitting for the removal. The actual removal of the Beja dam began on May 8th with a gradual lowering of the water level from the water reservoir behind the dam, lowering the water level by 20 centimetres per day, so as not to create a risk of flooding in the surrounding areas. Considering that the water reservoir had not been cleaned for more than 40 years, since the restoration of the dam in the 1980s, a considerable amount of sediment had accumulated there. It is important to drain the water in the spring, when there is more water in the river and the sediments can be naturally washed away by the current, revealing the stones that are in the river bed. At this time, it is difficult to specify how long it will take for all the sediment to be washed away, as it depends on the speed of the current, the amount of water and rainfall. However, surveying the river upstream of the dam, one can already see that the EU freshwater habitat 3260 (running water – sections of water courses with natural or semi-natural dynamics), which were covered with stagnant water and sediments a year ago, are being restored.
Although the biggest changes from the dam removal can already be seen now, the project is not yet complete. The next step will be to remove the vertical logs that form part of the dam structure. They will be removed when most of the sediment has washed away. After that, the construction of the necessary fishway will take place. In order to fully restore the river and the fish migration route, it is necessary to place stones and pebbles in the riverbed across the bridge threshold, simulating a natural riverbed. The necessary technical project will be designed so that the obstacle can be overcome even by the smallest river inhabitants and organisms. At the end of the project, Pasaules Dabas Fonds will clean up the river bank with the involvement of the local public.
“After several years of work, the moment has finally come when we get to see the results of it. It is astounding to see how quickly the river has returned to its old riverbed and how quickly rapids begin to form in places where they had disappeared. Finally, we will have a place in Latvia where everyone can witness this. This project would not be possible without the support of its financiers, the municipality and the public. Although this is the first project of this scale in Latvia, I hope it will not be the last. The dam removal movement in Latvia has only just begun, and we must do everything in our power to speed it up – the legislators must reduce bureaucratic obstacles, the dam owners must be forthcoming, and the general public has to speak up for dam removal and river restoration,” emphasises Magda Jentgena, Manager of the Baltic Sea and Freshwater Programme at Pasaules Dabas Fonds.
The project is implemented by Pasaules Dabas Fonds and is financially supported by the Open Rivers Programme and Mangaļi.
Pasaules Dabas Fonds is an NGO registered in Latvia, an associate partner of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which has been operating in Latvia since 1991. WWF’s mission is to build a future where people and nature live in harmony. The purpose of the organisation is nature protection in order to preserve the diversity of genetic, species and ecosystems, to ensure non-depleting use of renewable natural resources now and in the future, to help reduce pollution, wasteful consumption of natural resources and energy. For more information: www.pdf.lv
Photo: Valdis Skudre