One of Europe’s last wildernesses in Romania is under threat from a damaging hydropower project that was given the go ahead way back in 2002 – before the country’s nature was protected by the European Union’s environmental laws.

29,000 people have called on the government to halt the project in a petition.

A 30km stretch of the Jiu River – located in a gorge in the Defileul Jiului National Park – is being dried out in order to build two hydropower dams which could have a serious impact on the natural habitats of fish, otters, and bears, as well as cause damage to the virgin and quasi-virgin forest that covers two thirds of the gorge. An additional two dams are being built on the river’s tributaries.

Part of the Defileul Jiului National Park is classified under the EU’s ‘Natura 2000’ network of protected sites where nature-damaging activities are supposed to be restricted. The area is a popular spot for watersports such as rafting and kayaking.

Work on the dam is already underway despite concerns from local campaigners that the project breaches EU laws on water and nature protection.

Călin Dejeu, a biologist and economist, said:

“With the dams in place, the hydrographic flow of the Defileul Jiului National Park will come to a standstill.”

After the original permit was issued in 2002, the project was put on standby until it was resurrected in 2016.  The new EU environmental standards that have come into force since the original permit was issued have not been considered.

Călin Dejeu, who filed an official complaint on the matter to the European Commission in 2016 but has yet to receive any response, described the intrinsic value of the area:

“This National Park is the most spectacular in the country. It is an immense wild and heterogeneous region. The area is mainly covered by spruce tree forests at higher, colder altitudes, and is also home to thermophile species like Fraxinus ornus, which grow in the far end of the gorges. The area is breathtakingly beautiful due to the primeval forests on the slopes, lots of spectacular rocks and cliffs and, in particular, the cataracts of the River Jiu. We can’t even imagine or estimate how big the impact [of the hydropower project] will be.”