Letter of Appeal: Save the Rivers of Stara Planina

The European Water Movement supports the following Letter of Appeal with 36 other NGOs.

Dear Madam/Sir,

We are addressing to you in order to gain attention and better visibility of the acute ecological problems in Serbia, and hopefully to get support from relevant international institutions.

In order to achieve higher production of the electrical energy from renewable resources Serbia has started building small hydroelectric power plants in different natural sites in the country. Unfortunately, the plants projects proved to be threatening the environment, since they do not respect the regulations considering smallest amount of water necessary for aquatic ecosystem sustainability. (A lot of plants are to be built on the streams and rivers with insufficient amount of water that during the summer season turn into brooks). At this very moment, building is performed in the protected zones of the Mountain Stara planina (Mountain Balkan). This mountain is of particular value due to its drinkable water, rich biodiversity, and distinguished beauty.

According to the Nature Protection Institute of Serbia, The diversity of wild flora and fauna is represented by 1 200 species and sub-species of higher plants, about 200 species of birds, 30 species of mammals, 12 species of reptiles and 26 species of fish. Cultural and historical features of the area are represented by monumental medieval heritage from the period of Branković’s nobility dominance. Based on the Institute’s Study on protection, Stara planina is designated as Nature park, at an area of 114. 332 hectares, natural resource of category I and of exceptional importance. It is the largest designated natural area in Serbia, the nomination of which for biosphere reserve (UNESCO MAB) is being prepared (www.zzps.rs).

The hydroelectric power plants project includes construction of 58 plants on the streams of the Mt. Stara planina. It involves almost every mountain stream, including: rivers Visočica, Gosuška, Rudinjska, Toplodolska, Dojkinačka, Jelovička, Rosomačka and Senokoška, as well as the River Jerma at the foot of the mountain. We must emphasize that it is extremely harmful to introduce the heavy machinery into the river beds and bypass natural water courses with pipes and tunnels at these calcareous terrains, where the water plunges everywhere along the course and later appears as strong springs of drinkable water. The analysis of vulnerability of waters in the Mt. Stara planina classifies 47% of its underground water into moderately vulnerable, and 28% into highly vulnerable underground waters (Živanovic & Dragišić, 2011).

Therefore, the construction of small power plants that leave little or no water in the river bed causes damage not only for biodiversity, but also for the people who live in the mountain villages around the rivers, for the nearby city of Pirot, which supplies with potable waters from these rivers as well as for the whole region, whose springs of drinkable water are in danger.

Mt. Stara planina hosts a lot of elsewhere recently rare animal (for example Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), Brown bear (Ursus arctos), Brown trout (Salmo trutta), Stone crayfish (Austropotamobius torrentium) etc.), all of them currently placed at the Red List of Threatened Species. Therefore, many of those species are listed at the Bern Convention of protected species. According to Euronatur, rivers of Balkan Penninsula host 113 rare and protected fish species. Consequences for the fish fauna assessed by Weiss et al. (2018), if the projected hydropower plants in the Balkans were to be constructed revealed alarming result: eleven fish species would go globally extinct and another 38 species would be driven closer to the brink of extinction (www.euronatur.org).

Until this moment, the citizens of Pirot have addressed to the local authorities, to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, to the Nature Protection Institute of Serbia and to the media. The process of constructing the hydro power plants is still ongoing. Therefore, we would like to ask you for urgent help to prevent further damage in this valuable natural site.

Contact person:

Prof dr. Slobodanka Gašić Pavišić
Address:. Hrizantema 8d, 11000 Belgrade Serbia
E-mail: sgasicpavisic (at) gmail.com orsplanine (at) gmail.com