Help Save the Last Undisturbed River in Romanian Carpathians!

  • By: Calin Dejeu
  • Target: minister for environment, waters and forests; to the knowdlege of the Head of Nature Unit of the European Commission DG Environment (now Mr. Nicola Notaro)

Retezat Mountains are the most beautiful mountains in Romanian Carpathians. Here in interwar period the first national park in the country was declared and it remained the only one until the '90s. Hence these mountains are a symbol of nature conservation in Romania. In defiance of it, the dictatorship of Ceausescu started a hydropower project, which could destroy all the rivers in Retezat Mountains. The end of the regime was in time to save only one river, Raul Alb. This is also the only undisturbed river left in Romania, undisturbed from its spring high above the timber line to the confluence with its emissary. It flows through old-growth forest on a wild valley, without roads, and then, outside the mountains, in Hateg Country Dinosaur Geopark, it has a natural floodplain. The river and the floodplain represent a refuge for thriving populations of protected species.

But the river is now on the brink of destruction. A series of "administrative mistakes" has led to the approval of two hydropower plants, which will irreversibly destroy the river and its valley, within a Natura 2000 site declared for species of fish, crayfish and the European otter. The hunters of "green" certificates have obtained construction permits, in total contradiction with the environmental law. 

This river is important for the whole Europe, not solely for Romania. The valley of this small river holds a huge natural heritage.

Almost 5 month have passed and minister Gavrilescu is still refusing to answer to the most valid demand of much more than 100000 people, from all the corners of the world. This is an indicator of the level of democracy in Romania. Her subordinate, the lawyer of the National Environmental Agency, came to the lawsuit to advocate for the destruction of the river. Yes, there is now a lawsuit initiated by Natura 2000 Coalition, which came to the aid of the river, but in Romania lawsuits are not very different from lottery. But let's stick to nature. Raul Alb is still a treasure for the whole Europe, for the degree of conservation and the unique and heterogeneous natural heritage it harbors. But Europe is still unbelievable backward (about Romanian authorities I can't even begin to write). The decision-makers are not at all far from the "scientists" which could have saved the Tasmanian tiger back in the 20th century, but did not bother. Mr. Leiner is not willing to intervene, despite the fact that 4 Directives are totally broken in this case. I am sure that many people have answered to my plea and have sent e-mails to him. And he refused to intervene, arguing that the Commission will look at the additional information only when pursuing the matter to the national authorities will be exhausted. So he will intervene when will be far too late, like is happening now with the rivers completely devastated years ago in Fagaras Mountains (only now is the Commission beginning the infringement procedure). But many other authorities could intervene but are not. Raul Alb is in a geopark and I wrote to the UNESCO evaluators of this geopark (the hydropower project is absolutely in dissonance with UNESCO Guidelines) and they did nothing to stop the project. Quite the same with RAMSAR Secretariat. On the field the destruction has stopped for the moment. Raul Alb is a subject of inquiry and a mass media top subject (from The Guardian to Romanian Television), but nothing is really done to assure the protection conferred by the environmental law. The valley is guarded by dangerous man belonging to the hydro company. There were many troubles, culminating with the savage attack on environmentalists from 24th of May:

The entire country was shocked, but the authorities still did nothing, confined themselves to declarations. At first, but now is even worse and something astonishing is happening. Almost 400 people have sent a petition demanding the resignation on the officials responsible for the horrific developments on Raul Alb, including the head of the county police. And now the petitioners are called at or prompted by police! Despite the fact that sending petitions is a constitutional right. So we are going back 25 years ago, fact that, being about rivers, is not as astonishing as it seem, because the horrific institution which is appointed to apply Water Frame Directive in Romania is by all means devoted to the management of rivers specific to communist states in the 70s.

Even Mrs. Gavrilescu made an apology on TV for the attack of 24s May, but she is still doing nothing to save the magnificent Raul Alb. 

Mrs. Gavrilescu ended her mandate in the train of the popular mass protests triggered by the death of dozens in a fire, at a concert, due to the corruption which festers the country. Gavrilescu did all she could to have Raul Alb destroyed. The ministry of environment pleaded in court for the destruction of Raul Alb. And the judge, from the small city where the environmental mafia rules, decided, after a long and lawless lawsuit, in total contradiction with the law, that Raul Alb can be destroyed.  No sign yet from the new minister, Mrs. Cristiana Pasca-Palmer. There will be an appeal, to a court fortunately in another city, but still the best hope for Raul Alb is the European Commission.

The corruption does not end here, the prosecutors are blatantly refusing to investigate the criminal denunciation I filed for the trees illegally cut in the old-growth on Raul Alb.

It is a long fight, the situation is grey and brings up the huge octopus of environmental corruption in Romania, which gatheres all kinds of institutions, which I didn't foresee, but Raul Alb is priceless and it deserves a fight to the end!

Dear Minister of Environment, Waters and Forests Gratiela Gavrilescu, I urge you to take the legal actions needed in order to save the last river of Retezat Mountains left undisrupted by hydropower developments, the river called Raul Alb (The White River). The value of this river for the natural heritage goes farther than this, its valley being the only one in Romanian Carpathians still not affected, from hydromorphological, geomorphological and ecological perspective, by a road that follows the river course, unaffected from its source, high above timber line, to its confluence, far downstream of the mountains. Below 780 meters of altitude the gravel road is on a terrace, far from the river, and downstream, into the depression, the road is even further from the river. Above 780 meters there is no road, the valley is natural, the river pristine and it gives to hikers a sacred sensation. It's precisely here where they want to inflict total devastation by cutting an industrial road through the woods, blowing up rocks and mutilating the stream bed, in order to reach the point from where they want to divert almost all the river through a huge pipe, 3175 meters long, condemning the aquatic ecosystem to death. Further downstream, into Hateg Country Depression, they are about to install a penstock 1750 meters long, drying out the river and implicitly drying a flood plain of great ecological importance. To put it in other terms, the issue is that the hunters of "green" certificates, on the score of a series of administrative mistakes, euphemistically speaking, have received a Natura 2000 Permit for a project comprising two diversion "small" hydropower plants. The instream flow they have to leave on the river is only 23% of the mean annual discharge. Romania, unlike Western Europe, has a continental climate, hence Raul Alb has a modest discharge and cannot afford to lose even a much smaller amount of water than planned. You don't have to be a specialist to ascertain it. The two hydropower plants are flagrant illegal because they are to be placed in Hateg Country Dinosaurs Geopark and also in Strei-Hateg Natura 2000 site, the two protected areas overlapping. This Natura 2000 site was established for species like stone crayfish (Austropotamobius torrentium) bullhead (Cottus gobio), Carpathian brook lamprey (Eudontomyzon danfordi), Mediterranean barbel (Barbus meridionalis), yellow-bellied toad (Bombina variegata), Transylvanian smooth newt (Triturus vulgaris ampelensis) and the European otter (Lutra lutra) all of theme living in Raul Alb or on his banks. For all these species the local populations will be devastated by this hydropower project. For some of these species, including the stone crayfish, a priority species, Raul Alb represents the only generally undisturbed river habitat left in Strei-Hateg Natura 2000 site. The outrageous project has suspiciously receive a permit from the geopark administration. The construction and running of the two hydropower plants implies destroying landscapes and landforms of great scientific importance for geomorphology and hydrology, geodiversity with rarity value and biodiversity. It also has a huge and permanent effect on the sustainable tourism potential of this area rich in landscape, cultural and historical attractions. There was no public debate, just false propaganda, and the locals are afraid to express their opposition to the project. All these are in total opposition with UNESCO guidelines for geoparks. The European Geoparks charter is also infringed. This generally undisturbed river valley is of great scientific importance and should be preserved as reference for studies. This project involves a wide range of illegalities. Government Emergency Ordinance 57/2007 is broken by: damaging habitats and severely disturbing the species for which the Natura 2000 site was designated, including a priority species; eliminating areas from agricultural or forestry land use within a natural park (including replacing forest with an industrial road in the wildest area of the natural park!); breaking the European Geoparks Charter (mentioned in Annex No. 1). The Hunedoara Environmental Protection Agency has issued the Natura 2000 permit in secret, without consulting the citizens. The institution did not fulfil any of the legal obligations that citizens should be informed by posting a communication and the relevant documents on the website, thus the Agency infringed Government Emergency Ordinance 195/2005. The environmental opinion on the National Energy Strategy, which strictly bans such projects, was also broken, by authorizing "small" hydropower plants in a Natura 2000 site which shelters species of fish, the European otter or crayfish. On the upper 1 kilometer of river course planned to be destroyed, where there is no road on the valley and the nature is virtually pristine, they will build an industrial road, mutilating and diverting the river bed and detonating the rocky shores. These actions, added to diverting most of the discharge on two huge river stretches, contravene the Water Law and the Water Framework Directive. When the Environmental Protection Agency authorized this project it also failed to consider the cumulative effect of it, together with the old or new hydropower projects which devastate the surrounding rivers. The Appropriate Assessment Study provided by the project owner is a tendentious document, with faulty data and false conclusions. Destroying the only undisturbed river left in Romania and drying up a flood plain of great ecological value and the arms of the river, in order to obtain an insignificant amount of energy, is also in total disagreement with the wise use of wetlands stated in the Ramsar Convention. The river is a linear ecosystem, the devastation of a long river stretch just near the exit of the river from Retezat National Park will have a huge effect on the ecological status of Raul Alb inside the national park. Raul Alb is the only river in Retezat National Park which is not damaged by hydropower developments but the Park Administration was in prior years subjected to huge political pressures and seems unable to react. Besides considering the huge environmental issue, the Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests should take action regarding this unlawful project because most of the guilt in authorizing this environmental damage falls on institutions subordinated to this ministry. Alongside other needed actions, you can seek the annulment of the Natura 2000 permit until February 28, 2015, six month after the revised framing decision was issued. The sooner you act, the bigger the chance that spring is announced by snowdrops in the pristine valley of Raul Alb, not by bulldozers and detonations. Thank you for your support! Sincerely, [Your name]

Update #3about a year ago
Three month have passed since the petition was sent to the minister. It seems that she has other interests. But there is other person who should act, because four EU Directives are broken in this case and a huge number of EU citizens have signed. I was told that the European Commission tends not to consider individual cases, unless they are very spectacular or symbolic. Please write e-mails to and tell the Head of Nature Unit to take into consideration this petition.
Update #21 years ago
I was today on Raul Alb. The scenery is astonishing, spring brings out even more biodiversity than I could anticipate. It is one of the most valuable corners of nature left in Europe. But the destruction began, despite public outrage. They began cutting the trees on the trail of the planned industrial road. The situation is critical. Please write an e-mail to minister Gavrilescu and ask her to spare the river, the valley and the wildlife!;
Update #11 years ago
First answer: "Following your address regarding hydro power developments on Raul Alb, situated inside Hateg Country Dinosaurs Geopark and Natura 2000 site ROSCI0236 Strei-Hateg, we communicate that we have requested points of view regarding the signaled aspects from Hunedoara E.A., Bucuresti U., as administrator of the geopark, and the Control body of the Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests. As soon as we receive the report from the control body, we will send you the stated conclusions."
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