This week, I returned from a trip to the beautiful country of Sweden, where I spent time with Thomas Johansson, Swedish Baltic Rivers Waterkeeper, and Christer Borg, Alvraddanas Waterkeeper, to witness and discuss the impacts of dams on Sweden’s rivers. Little did I know, we would be celebrating a new dam removal victory during our visit!
Sweden has the distinction of providing virtually all of its power from fossil fuel free sources. However, the hydropower dams that generate about 40% of the country’s energy (the rest is nuclear, solar and wind) have caused a devastating impact on the country’s rivers and two Swedish icons – salmon and sea trout.
About 80% of Sweden’s rivers are impacted by approximately 11,000 dams; only about 2,000 of those dams produce energy and only a little over 200 of those 2,000 produce a significant amount of energy (more than 10 megawatts). And these dams are destroying the rivers’ ecosystems and wiping out important fisheries. Historically, there were more than 80 rivers in Sweden supporting wild salmon and sea trout in the Baltic region. Today, there are fewer than 30 – dams have wiped the majority of them away.
After a bit of fly fishing, the visit with Thomas and Christer had an auspicious start, with a major announcement from county board authorities that they would begin to remove the ancient sawmill dam on the Emån river, one of Sweden’s 16 Baltic Salmon rivers. The Emån is famous for a world record sea trout caught by fly fishing. Our Waterkeepers and the local community have been fighting for the dam removal since 2010. The pending dam removal is expected to add approximately 30% more to the Emån River’s habitat.
This is a tremendous victory for river advocates, with many more dams to go. As the visit progressed, we viewed a number of dams along the Ångerman River, including one at the site of the largest number of Stone Age rock carvings in Northern Europe. This site was the first hydropower plant on the Ångerman River. Below the dam, the river would be dry, but because of the rock carvings, the dam operator, Vattenfall, is mandated to provide flows during the tourist season June 15 to August 15. Before the river was dammed, it was a thriving salmon fishery; that is no longer the case.
Our Waterkeepers in Sweden are working to restore these rivers and their fisheries. While they realize it is unlikely that all the dams of Sweden will be removed, they have a three-pronged approach: preventing any new dams from being developed in Sweden, forcing dam removal wherever possible, and advocating for appropriate fish passage measures where dams will not be removed.
With its focus on renewable energy, Sweden is working to be the green battery for Europe. The Waterkeepers of Sweden are working to ensure that the green battery does not run at the expense of the rivers, streams, and fisheries that are the arteries and veins of the nation.