Over the next decade, numerous transnational enterprises are planning to build over 3,000 hydropower plants (HPP) on rivers flowing throughout South East Europe. Many of these rivers are part of Natura 2000 protected areas and are well-known for their rich ecosystems.
One of these rivers, Vjosa in Albania, has not been affected by hydropower dams so far, except in its upper catchment that flows through Greece. Vjosa is considered to be among the last ‘free-flowing rivers’, having one of the broadest gravel bars in Europe. The river flows free for 270km, untamed and undammed, through spectacular valleys and canyons.
Similarly, the river Mura in its middle and lower course in Slovenia has not been impacted by the construction of hydropower plants so far, but is, in contrast to Vjosa, heavily dammed in its upper catchment in Austria. In total, 31 hydropower stations were built on the Mura river, of which 26 are still operating. The dense hydropower infrastructure network in the upper catchment has caused some significant transformations of the riverine morphology, its biodiversity, and landscapes.
The objective of the project is to compare the environmental changes in two different river catchments (Mura river in Slovenia and Vjosa river in Albania) and assess the impact of hydro-electric infrastructures by studying the streamflow alterations (on land cover and gravel deposits) on the river regimes and comparing these changes to the perception of changes from local population.