Europe’s last wild river is endangered. The threat comes not from pollution or drought. Instead, the menace is a world hydropower boom—and the dams needed to maintain it.
Rivers are a crucial part of the God-created water cycle. They carry energy and nutrients, and furnish drinking water, transportation, and recreation. Rivers host a variety of fish and provide food for birds, animals, and people.
So it is with Albania’s Vjosa River. The Vjosa (pronounced v-JAH-suh) runs more than 170 miles through the heart of one of Europe’s poorest countries.
Now the Albanian government plans to dam the Vjosa and its tributaries. Officials want to generate electricity using the flowing water. The process produces hydroelectric power (also called hydropower). To do this, they want to build eight dams along the river—plus another 30 on the river’s various offshoots.
Some experts say hydropower is reliable, cheap, and renewable. After all, rivers keep running, right? But critics say the benefits of hydropower are overstated—and outweighed by the harm dams can do.
Dams interrupt the flow of rivers and harm the wildlife in and around them. They impede the natural movement of water and sediment (mud or sand on the river bottom). This can cause temperature swings, change the water chemistry, or trigger toxic algae growth.
Dams can also completely unravel food chains. Low water levels reduce area in which insects can lay eggs. Fewer insects feed fewer fish, which leaves less prey for fish-eating birds and mammals.
But the most well-known issue is that dams block the paths of fish trying to swim upstream to spawn.
Some who live along the riverbank or rely on the waterway for their livings are worried. They fear dams could kill the Vjosa.
Humans can get ahead of ourselves. We might invent a way around a problem without considering what—or who—could suffer as a result. We often fret over future events without knowing all the facts. God knows all. His word teaches that prudence (discretion and restraint before action) is wise. He also tells Christians how to resist sorrow and turmoil: “Hope in God.” (Psalm 42:5)
Jonus Jonuzi grew up along the river. He raised his children there. Now he watches his grandchildren play in its waters. Before dawn, Jonuzi crosses a bridge over a narrow gorge to tend to his goats. Later, his son drives the animals to drink from a nearby spring. The water emerges cold and clear.
“Everything I have, I have because of the river,” he says. “Albania needs electrical energy. But not by creating one thing and destroying another.”