The removal of the Urrutienea dam in France, finalist in the European prize for the removal of dams 2023, votes are open

The removal of the Urrutienea dam on the River Nivelle in France has been selected to compete for the European prize for the removal of dams.

3 projects have been shortlisted: “Removal of the Urrutienea dam on the River Nivelle in France”, “Removal of the Garlogie dam in Scotland” and “Removal of the Vaqueiros weir in Portugal”. You can now vote for your favourite. Voting is open until 22 March at 11:59. Vote now! Dam Removal Award Nominees 2023 – Dam Removal Europe 

Focus on the project on the Nivelle, the other projects can be found on the DRE website.

At the heart of a cross-border landscape between Spain and France, the Nivelle is a river rich in biodiversity and is a major centre of interest for this tourist region in summer. The 5-metre-high dam had been out of action for 10 years! An impassable barrier for migratory fish, in particular salmon, eels and other emblematic species (freshwater pearl mussels, Pyrenean Desman, European otters, white-clawed crayfish and others). The fishing federation, which initiated the project, bought the site in order to dismantle it completely. On the Spanish side, their partners had already worked on removing the obstacles, and they knew that this dam was the last completely impassable dam on the Nivelle.

Their main obstacle was to convince the local authorities that economic development (hydroelectricity) could not be achieved at the expense of local biodiversity. All in all, it took 20 years to break the deadlock!

Just two months after completion of the work, the results are extraordinary. The first Atlantic salmon spawning grounds located 6 km upstream of the dam were observed in Spain – for the first time in several centuries!

The work carried out in parallel since 2020 to conserve and restore the freshwater pearl mussel on the Nivelle has also been decisive. This species, the only one genetically unique in the Pyrenees, lives in symbiosis with salmon. These actions include reproduction to boost the natural population, which was threatened with extinction within the next 10 years. Removing the dam was therefore essential to restoring the habitat and reclaiming the whole of the upstream catchment.

Numerous partners were involved in the project: scientific research bodies (INRAE), associations (AAPPMA Nivelle, CEN Nouvelle Aquitaine, MIGRADOUR), the Government of Navarre, the vocational college (which houses the facilities for the ex-situ pearl mussel rearing project), and foundations (Fondation française des pêcheurs, Fondation Arcadia – Open Rivers Programme).


The Dam Removal Award is organised by Dam Removal Europe, the World Fish Migration Foundation, the European Investment Bank, and The Nature Conservancy, supported by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, Forest Peace Foundation and ABN AMRO Bank. The most inspiring project will be awarded a special trophy and 15.000 Euros towards the team’s next removal project, and the winner will be revealed during the upcoming Free Flow Conference in Groningen, The Netherlands. 




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