Prishtinë, 04 November 2021
The construction of hydropower plants in some municipalities of Kosovo has caused numerous environmental damages, as well as has disturbed residents in the areas where they were built. They were not initially informed which were the consequences of the constructions that were done near the rivers and the diverting of the rivers into pipes.
Preportr has visited several villages in the Municipality of Deçan and Shtërpcë to see up close the constructions that have been done across the rivers and in the surrounding area.
Traces of constructions in many of the places are still fresh. In many of these places can be seen degraded areas, landslides and places where forests have been cut down to build a pipeline.
Bajram Tahiraj, a resident of the village of Beleg in the Municipality of Deçan, says that due to the construction of hydropower plants in the Deçan canyon, hundreds of hectares of mountains along the river has been degraded, as the surrounding oaks were cut during the construction of hydropower plants.
Tahiraj, who says that he frequents that part often, shows that they have problems with drinking water due to the diverted water into pipes.
He says that the Lumbardhi’s stream has always been with a large flow of water, especially during the spring season, while now that hydropower plants take water from the river, its flow is very small, and sometimes there is no flow at all.
"The difference of water flow is noticed at the place where the pipes that receive water are, in those places there is a larger flow, while along the river, the flow is smaller. So, it loses water ", says Tahiraj.
He further adds that in the mountains of Deçan, especially along the Lumbardhi’s stream there has been tourism over the years, and that with the construction of hydropower plants, tourism has been extinguished, as in those places it has been excavated and is no longer a suitable place for such a recreational activity.
"Before, there were many fish along the river, but now there are none as a consequence of these hydropower plants," said Tahiraj.
Within this research, Preportr through the ECR platform has published a questionnaire to get responses from citizens regarding the impact that hydropower plants have had on the environment and consequently on their daily lives.
From the generated data by the questionnaire, it turns out that 72 percent of respondents consider hydropower plants harmful to the environment and the place where they live.
Environmental activists say that for all hydropower plants in the Municipalities of Deçan and Shtërpcë, public discussions on environmental impact assessment have been formally conducted without transparency and proper information and with minimal or no public participation.
Even the results that came out of the questionnaire show such a thing. About 82 percent of respondents answered that they were not part of public discussions as there was no announcment about it. While 17 percent of them have participated. But when asked how much the residents’ opinions were considered in these discussions, 60 percent of them stated that they were not considered at all.
Most of the respondents stated that the biggest damages caused by hydropower plants are: Degradation of the surrounding environment, degradation of the river bed, degradation of touristic places, etc.
16 hydropower plants operate illegally
In addition to environmental damage, a report published months ago by a working group established by the Ministry of Environment points to numerous legal and administrative violations regarding the construction and operation of hydropower plants (HPPs).
This working group was established in May 2021 with the decision of the Minister of MESPI, Liburn Aliu, in order to review the legality and procedural and administrative aspects of allowing these HPPs. Within this group of experts from MESPI and its subordinate agencies were included.
This report among other things states, that despite the fact that the law regulates that the concession must be provided for the use of water for business purposes, the Ministry of Environment as the responsible authority for granting the water rights has not implemented the concession, but the granting of the water right was done with a water permit, which is a violation of the Law on Waters of Kosovo.
The basic difference between a water permit and a concession is that the concession is granted through a public competion process, while a water permit is not.
The water permit is issued for the use of water for general consumption as well as for other activities that affect the water regime, while the concession is issued for the use of water for business activities, such as the use of water power for the production of electricity, etc.
According to the report, all hydropower plants are built in the immediate vicinity of water-streams from which they generate energy, which is contrary to the provisions of the Law on Waters of Kosovo, which prohibits construction at a distance of less than 30 meters from full lines.
"Out of 20 HPPs operating, only four of them have environmental permits, while another 16 operate illegally, without environmental permits, contrary to the law on Environmental Protection," stated in the report.
The report states that the issuance of environmental consent for the three HPPs: "Lumbardhi II", "Belaja" and "Deçani" is illegal. This is due to the fact that the three HPPs are treated differently in different administrative acts according to the operator's preferences. For example, environmental consent was given to all three together, as was municipal consent, whereas water and environmental permits were issued separately. Urban permits are issued for two HPPs together, while for one separately.
The working group that compiled this report has considered that the issuance of the water permits for HPP "Deçani" and "Belaja" was done without verifying the ecologically acceptable flow.
The report states that the ascertainment of the commission for environmental permits that "fish trails are functional" is unprofessional as it was done without adequate monitoring of the functioning of fish trails.
"With the construction of HPP "Lumbardhi", the location "Zalli i Rupës" has been extremely degraded as a result of the exploitation of gravel by the holder of the construction permit. Also, the road to this location has landslides as a result of the constructions, which presents difficulties in crossing this part of the road’’, stated in the report.
The report also states that in the locations where the construcions took place in Deçani’s Canyon, the place has remained degraded, the fish trail is not implemented properly, there are illegal dumping of excessive concrete on the river banks, there are no measurements of water level / flow neither before nor after water intake works , the route of the pipelines extends over public surfaces, the concrete structures in the water intake works are in complete incompatibility with the landscape etc.
Despite the many findings of this report, Shpresa Loshaj, environmental activist and founder of the environmental protection organization ‘’Pishtaret’’ (Albanian for “torch”), says that it should include the non-implementation of the contract that Kelkos had with the Municipality of Deçan.
Among the main points of the contract is the rehabilitation of the places where the company operates during the construction of hydropower plants and accompanying infrastructure.
Preportr has sent questions to the Municipality of Deçan, regarding the non-implementation of the contract between this municipality and Kelkos, environmental degradation, transparency regarding this matter, etc., but has not received a response.
The Mayor of Deçan, Bashkim Ramosaj, spoke about this matter last year when a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission was established to review the process of licensing, operation, supervision and appliance for hydropower plant permits.
In the meeting of this commission, Ramosaj said that the norms for the construction of hydropower plants foreseen in the signed contract were not respected in the case of hydropower plants built by the company Kelkos and that the environment has not returned to its previous state.
"The Municipality of Deçan has been misled by all this documentation, because apart from that, it has not fulfilled any obligation, no commitment, no right that originates from the initial agreement that has been signed," said Ramosaj.
Speaking about environmental damage, he said that two water sources have been lost from the constructions of hydropower plants.
Numerous environmental degradations
Shpresa Loshaj has been very vocal towards the environmental consequences caused by the construction of hydropower plants by the company "Kelkos".
She says that the construction of hydropower plants has changed Deçani’s Canyon’s geography and that the damage has started since 2013, when construction began. She says that despite the damage that has been done over the years, little is known about hydropower plants and that people have generally been afraid to talk about this matter.
‘’Last year at the place known as "Zalli i Rupës" there was no drop of water in the river. "That place looked like a desert," says Loshaj.
Even the pictures that were taken in that period of time witness the environmental degradations that were done in this place.
Loshaj says that due to constructions, the level of the road has been raised in relation to the river, because they could not put the pipes underground, but they covered them with soil. For this reason, the river has remained very low, so there is a steep slope there.
"For this reason, you can no longer go out for a picnic near the river, as people did before the pipes were laid. "That part was accessible before working there," said Loshaj.
This was also noticed by the Preportr team during the visit to Deçani’s Canyon. It is very difficult to reach the river for miles, as the distance between the road and the river is already about two meters.
Last year at the place known as "Zalli i Rupës" there was no drop of water in the river. That place looked like a desert.Shpresa Loshaj, “Pishtarët”
Shpresa Loshaj says that in the places where it was excavated to insert the pipes, now there are no pines and woods, but the bushes have come out and in this way the habitat of the trees has been destroyed.
"We have seen it several times and we have photos and videos that show that the river did not have water. So, the river no longer has fish, because they do not survive if one day it stops the water and after a few days it releases it and thinks that life continues there ", says Loshaj.
Despite the damage done to the environment, Loshaj says that the institutions at the central and local level have continuously protected Kelkos, by not providing data on the constructions that have been taking place in Deçan’s Canyon.
She says that the organizing to defend Kelkos has been very massive and has constantly tried to silence dissenting voices.
"We have placed the posters that are 2-3 meters long in Deçan with messages for the protection of Deçan’s Lumbardhi, someone removes them at night. Even in front of the door of my house someone came at night and removed my poster. The removal of posters at night is not only intended to remove the poster, but to send messages to be careful ‘’, said Loshaj.
Due to the activism related to the construction of hydropower plants in the Deçan’s Canyon and public statements related to this matter, in June last year, the Kelkos company filed a civil defamation lawsuit against Shpresa Loshaj and Adriatik Gacaferri.
The ad-hoc coalition of civil society organizations responded to the company’s lawsuit. This coalition has said that the purpose of the lawsuit was never for Kelkos to win the case, but the purpose was to intimidate activists who criticize the operations of this company in that area.
But on the 18th of October this year, Kelko's representatives informed lawyer Rina Kika that they had withdrawn the lawsuits against the two activists.
Shpesa Loshaj is not satisfied with the actions of the current government, as she expected that measures will be taken against Kelkos due to the numerous violations they have committed. She says they are just asking for the law to be enforced.
"If Kelkos got the permits illegally in December, then they said that they would withdraw their permits. To not revoke the previous permits, but the law says that if the operator has acted illegally, such as there is no water study, no water meter, no rehabilitation of the environment, can no longer operate, because if it operates they will do irreparable damage to the river. "The Minister of Environment, Liburn Aliu, must stop Kelkos work in this case and give them time to do the working", said Loshaj.
Consequences on the drinking water and the river flow
Even the construction of hydropower plants in the Municipality of Shtërpcë has aroused many reactions from citizens. The main objections were to environmental degradation and the consequences of "burying" the river by putting it in pipes.
Preportr has visited several locations in this municipality, to see closely the constructions that have been done. Residents of this area who did not want to be identified, say that a lot of environmental damage has been done. Several catchments have been built in the area which collect water even from small streams.
Granit Berisha has been engaged as an activist to help the residents of the villages of the Municipality of Shtërpcë to articulate their demands and objections regarding the environmental damage that has been caused and is being caused due to the construction of hydropower plants.
"For two years the water in this city is not drinkable and this has come as a result of the constructions that Matkos has done with the hydropower plant 'Shtërpca", says Berisha.
He says that most of the Lepenc River flows are diverted into hydropower plants because they generate a lot of kinetic energy because they have very large declines. According to him, this has resulted in their destruction, the fall of vegetation, especially in the river flow, which is like a protected landscape in the park area.
"We have received many complaints from that community. They complain about the small amount of water that is insufficient for the agriculture they are developing," says Berisha.
Furthermore, he says that there have been many individual complaints from residents because in many properties, the economic operator has started operating without obtaining permission from the owners. For this reason, civil lawsuits have been filed by citizens with the request that the operator stops the constructions.
Also, the community of residents from the Biti village in Shtërpcë is in administrative dispute with the Ministry of Environment regarding the issuance of environmental permits to the company Matkos, mainly in not being involved in decision-making on projects that affect the environment and the community.
For two years the water in this city is not drinkable and this has come as a result of the constructions that Matkosi has done with the hydropower plant 'Shtërpca".Granit Berisha, activist
Residents of this village had protested several times to oppose the construction of the hydropower plant in the Lepenc River.
Granit Berisha says that there was no public discussion with the residents regarding the construction of hydropower plants, respectively environmental damage.
"When we requested access to public documents, the record of the meeting was on an A4 sheet written in the first person by the official of the ministry. In the list of participants are four officials from the ministry ", says Berisha, adding that the place of the meeting was one of the restaurants owned by the owner of hydropower plants in Brezovica and that this meeting was held far away from the citizens.
The report of the working group also found numerous legal violations that were committed while providing relevant documentation for the company Matkos.
According to the report, the concession procedure for granting the right to use water as required by the Law on Waters of Kosovo has not been implemented, and that water consent has been granted without meeting any of the water conditions.
This report also states that in the water permit there is no data on water intake works, their location, pipelines, ecological inflows for each of the water intake profiles etc.
The construction permits for HPP “Brezovica” was issued on water property, in the immediate vicinity of the river, contrary to Law on Waters of Kosovo, which determines the distance of at least 30 meters for the construction of facilities from the line of high fleets.
“In none of the profiles of water intake works there is no measurement of water flow, as required by water conditions and water permit. "The granting of water property for use with a decision by the Municipality of Shtërpca to "Matkos Group” is contrary to the Law on Waters of Kosovo", the report states.
The environmental consent has been issued for the construction of generating HPPs along the Lepenc River by the Municipality of Shtërpcë, without specifying cadastral parcels.
“Although the environmental permit has not been issued for these two hydropower plants, the HPPs are operating”, the report says.
According to this report for HPP Brezovica and HPP Viça there is no fish trail in any of the water intake works, the pipeline route extends through public areas, there is no measurement of the water level/ inflows either before or after the water intake works, the investor has no information on how much ecological inflow should be released into the river, the concrete structures in the water intake works are in complete discrepancy with the landscape, the hydropower building is in the direct vicinity of the river, on the water property.