Multiple dams removed in Danube Delta as river restoration efforts ramp up

The Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta just become a little wilder, thanks to the removal of ten obsolete dams on the Kogilnik and Sarata Rivers, all within the territory of the Danube Biosphere Reserve (DBR) and Rewilding Europe’s Danube Delta ‘rewilding area’. The intervention, which was co-financed by the Endangered Landscapes Programme and a successful crowdfunding campaign, is expected to facilitate the rapid revitalisation of the delta’s rivers. Improved connectivity will allow the restoration of natural processes and support wildlife comeback, as well as underpin the development of local, nature-based economies.

An aerial view of one of the obsolete dams removed in the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta. Photo credit: Maxim Yakovlev.

“It’s great to see these rivers flowing freely once again,” says Rewilding Ukraine Executive Director Mykhailo Nesterenko. “For many years these obsolete dams have had a detrimental impact on fish populations and other wildlife, as well as people. This removal project, which will aid our restoration efforts in the delta significantly, serves as a role model for other outdated dams across the delta and Ukraine.”

The picturesque Kogilnik and Sarata Rivers rise in Moldova before entering the Sasyk Lagoon in the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta. A series of ten small, Soviet-era dams have long restricted flow close to the mouths of both rivers, negatively impacting river beds and local biodiversity. Dams in general have a damaging environmental effect by disrupting the migratory pathways of fish, blocking sediment transport and fragmenting habitat.

The Danube Delta provides critical riverine, lagoon and freshwater marsh habitat for many species, but its river ecosystems have been become fragmented due to excessive dam construction. Photo credit: Copyright Magnus Lundgren / Rewilding Europe.

The removal of these barriers will create around 20 kilometres of new habitat along the Kogilnik and Sarata, including flooded meadows. This will benefit a host of wildlife species, including wild carp, frogs, otters and a wide range of breeding and migratory birds.

In 2020 the project will enter its second phase, when feasibility studies for upriver channel clearance and restoration will be conducted.

Local delta communities, who were consulted on the dam removal, will also benefit from the deconstruction, with the town council of Tatarbunary approving the project. Fishermen will profit from healthier fish populations, while the comeback of wild nature should also support new opportunities for nature-based tourism.

A map of the dams removed in the Danube Delta. Credit: Rewilding Europe.

“This project will benefit a wide range of wildlife, but especially fish,” says Alexander Voloshkevich, Director of the Danube Biosphere Reserve. “Removing the dams will improve river flow, revitalising local vegetation which serves as a spawning ground. More fish is obviously good news for fishermen.

“Enhanced river flow will also increase riverside meadow areas, which should boost local grazing,” he continues. “Last but not least, better natural channelisation will reduce the flooding of agricultural land and a local highway.”

A community event linked to the dam removal will be held next year to inform local people about the benefits of nature-based solutions and opportunities they provide.

You can find out more about this work from Mykhailo in the video below:

This edited article is reproduced with kind permission from Rewilding Europe.