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The path of salmon up the Rhine

Sunday, December 19, 2010 · Category Environment · comments 0

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In 2008 the path of salmon up the river Rhine came under the attention of many when Der Spiegel published an article about the migration of the salmon up the river Rhine. The main motivation of the article was the quit ridiculous shuttle service for migrating salmon proposed by EDF president Pierre Gadonneix.

The EDF shuttle service

Instead of building new fish ladders along the route with several power plants and dams, the EDF corporation wanted to catch salmon stuck before the first dam barrier. It would then have them transported by tanker trucks "the so-called salmon taxis" upstream to Basel, bypassing all of the EDF power plants.

Project Salmon 2000

Almost two decade ago it was than Dutch Minister and now EU-commisioner Nelly Kroes, who launched the salmon as the symbol for a clean river Rhine after the devastating 1986 Swiss chemical spillover which landed tons of chemical waste into the river polluting it over a stretch of 400 kilometers. The idea: If the salmon would return to the river Rhine - the fish needs fairly clean water - the river would once again be the living ground of numerous fish.

The biggest obstacles

Salmon routeSalmon route I have been looking around for information about the main route the salmon has to pass along the river Rhine and the main hazards left in december 2010.

Obstacle 1: Paris and the 100-kilometer stretch in the Southern Upper Rhine

The so-called "deadly gauntlet"; a long chain of hydroelectric stations belonging to the French national energy monopoly Electricité de France (EDF). Fish ladders are lacking, and the whirling turbines are the biggest killers of young salmon. The mortality rate among young salmons lies between 26-40% and of young eels even between 74-90%, having a devastating impact on the stock of the species. Salmon are good at jumping up small water falls up to several meters high, yet the EDF dams are between 11 and 16 meter high.

Obstacle 2: The Schaffhausen cascades in Switzerland

The Rheinfall in Schafhaussen has always been a natural obstacle for migrating Salmon. Even though it doesn;t seem to look anywhere near what it was once in the past, the Schaffhausen Falls are still 150 meters wide adn 23 meters high where in summertime 600.000 liters of water pass per second.

Obstacle 3: Dutch Haringvliet locks are closed when returning from the North Sea

If the young salmon manage to pass the dams with high tide and reach the Haringvliet locks to exit into the Atlantic Ocean at the flushing of the Haringvliet locks, they will find the same Haringvliet locks closed on their way back. The smart ones using the "Neuwe waterweg" will probably end up like sushi in the turbines of obstacle number 1.

Problem areas solved with fish ladders

Much progress has also been achieved in the past decade. Currently there are functional fish ladders at hydroelectric stations in Iffezheim (Germany) and Gambsheim (France). In 2015 we should see the opening f a new fish ladder at Strasbourgh. The costs of such fish ladders range anyware between E 2 - E 12 million euro so far. Building proper fish ladders in the Upper Rhine will cost some Euro 60 million, peanuts for a company like EDF generating some 60 billion in revenues each year.

The irony of the failure to make the Salmon 2020 project succeed

Thus, the success of bringing the salmon back to the river Rhine may fail in the end due to:

  1. EDF, The French Energy corporation not willing to spent 0,001% of their annual revenue to build a couple of fish ladders
  2. The Versailles treaty of 1919: According to the treaty of Versailles (1919) the French have the exclusive right to the use of water power in the Upper Rhine. Legal licenses date back to the 1950s and 1960s without any mention of environmental conditions and are to expire only in 2028 and 2048.
  3. A Dutch government not willing to invest 6 million euro to buy 3 hectares of land

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