Press release

NOVO VIRJE dam project on the Croatian Drava River would be an ecological disaster and against EU law

Zagreb, 4.11.2003: WWF, with partners Euronatur, the Drava League and Green Action, today called on the Croatian government to stop all further development on the ecologically disastrous Novo Virje hydropower dam on the Drava River, and begin a process looking for sustainable alternatives. Croatia is currently hosting the annual Hydropower Industry meeting in Dubrovnik - a meeting whose main outcome will be the construction of more hydropower dams globally and which will also include the promotion of the Croatian Novo Virje plant project.

The projected Novo Virje hydropower plant threatens to destroy unique habitats and species populations qualifying for protection under EU environmental legislation. As a country which has just applied for entry into the European Union, and must therefore comply with all EU laws, continued planning of this dam goes directly against the requirements of EU legislation, especially the EU Habitats and Birds Directive and the Water Framework Directive.

“The decision to build the dam would call into question Croatia’s true commitment to becoming a member of the European Union as well as to fulfilling international standards and obligations,” says Irma Popovic from Green Action. “In contrast, by pursuing sustainable alternatives to the current project like investing in energy efficiency or alternative energy programmes, Croatia could put its environmental performance on track for EU membership”.

“The dam would cause flooding of more than 10 km² of floodplain forests, an EU priority habitat which requires special protection. It would transform the now “good ecological status” of the river into bad, and thus into a river stretch which goes against the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive.” says Arno Mohl, freshwater expert at WWF Austria.

The groups also called on the government to take steps to protect the Drava and Mura rivers in Croatia, and are pushing for a trans-boundary protected biosphere. This would mean Croatia’s co-operation with neighbouring countries Austria, Hungary and Slovenia in protecting one of the last remaining semi-natural river systems in Europe in a scheme which would be in accordance with EU standards and requirements and already has backing from UNESCO.

“A hydroelectric power dam on the Drava at Novo Virje would bring massive environmental destruction for the river landscape and would preclude a positive outcome for the joint sustainable development of the whole Drava river basin, says Helena Hecimovic from the Drava League. “The Novo Virje dam is a glaring example of a hydropower dam which is damaging on a social, environmental and economic level, which will destroy some beautiful and precious natural habitat and which is going to cost more than € 50 million to build. We question not only the neccessity of the dam, but also the studies done to justify the work and also the motivation behind building it. Croatia should exploit its considerable potential for energy efficiency and other renewable energy sources. This could be included in the sustainable strategy for the whole Drava valley which could be achieved through transboundary cooperation and protection.“