Non-governmental organisations and water sports enthusiasts today warned that plans to build three dams on the upper Drina in Bosnia and Herzegovina must be stopped and the river protected. The Drina and its tributaries are the most important habitat for the globally endangered Danube Salmon and an increasingly popular outdoor tourist destination.
The warning precedes a visit on 17 May by Serbia’s President Vučić to lay the foundation stone for the Buk Bijela dam – a project which is far from ready to start construction.
A company owned by Elektroprivreda Republike Srpske (ERS) (49%) and Elektroprivreda Srbije (51%) is planning a series of three dams on the upper Drina – Buk Bijela, Foča and Paunci – with a total capacity of around 180 megawatts.
In July 2017, a memorandum on construction of Buk Bijela was signed with the China National Aero-Technology International Engineering Corporation (AVIC-ENG), but no final construction contract appears to have been signed. The only building permit for the project is for preparatory works.
Neither has any loan contract been signed, so the source of financing remains unclear, and no feasibility study has ever been published, if indeed it exists.
Despite the fact that the Drina forms part of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s border with Montenegro and Serbia, no consent has been sought from the BIH state institutions to build the plants. In December 2020, 24 members of the House of Representatives launched a constitutional court case against Republika Srpska’s decision to issue a concession for the construction of the upper Drina hydropower plants, as they state that decisions regarding state property such as rivers on international borders can only be taken at the state level .
A case is also pending at the Espoo Convention Implementation Committee due to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s failure to consult Montenegro about the transboundary environmental impacts of the upper Drina hydropower plants. A group of NGOs submitted a complaint to the Committee in May 2020, as did the Montenegrin government in December 2020.
A case brought by the Aarhus Center in Sarajevo is also pending at the Republika Srpska high court, challenging the Ministry for Spatial Planning, Construction and Ecology’s 2019 decision to allow ERS to rely on a poor quality environmental impact assessment written a decade ago instead of requiring a new study when it applied for a new environmental permit.
‘ERS claims – without any evidence – that there will be no transboundary impact from Buk Bijela’, states Nataša Kovačević of Green Home, Montenegro.
‘In fact, if the reservoir reaches up to 434 metres above sea level then it would not only disrupt migration of the endangered Danube Salmon and other species, but would actually enter Montenegro’s territory, as the border is at 432.37 metres’, she explained.‘
“The Tara and Drina have not only become popular for rafting and kayaking, but their beauty represents a real treasure of the Balkans. Building hydropower reservoirs on the Drina threatens to totally destroy around 30 km of the river and could impact the health of people in Foča and the local area. The need to preserve these rivers for future generations in the untouched state they have been handed down to us cannot be brought into question,’ added Viktor Bjelić from the Center for Environment, Banja Luka.