Theater of Cruelty

Plundering Norwegian nature

The power companies' extreme drainage of Norwegian lakes causes unsightly wounds in the landscape. Worse, biodiversity is being compromised. The low level of water in Norwegian waters is because politicians have given up control, critics believe. They accuse Statkraft of environmental crime.


[water magazines] «Bike on Hardangervidda takes you through beautiful and wild high mountain nature. Hardangervidda is Norway's largest national park, and guarantees you unique nature experiences in a clean environment. Many good fishing lakes along the road can tempt you with trout and char if you bring your fishing rod. ”

This is how Norwegian nature is marketed to tourists. It is a glossy image that does not match reality. Harald Kvålen, one of the landowners on the Langesæ water in Vinje in Telemark, shows what the tourist brochures do not tell. The areas around the reservoirs in the area are characterized by heavy areas of greyish brown and dehydrated soil that should have been under water. The power companies have drained the waters during the period when they should actually fill them.

- This is environmental crime, says Kvålen and looks beyond the almost empty Langesæ. He receives full support from the Secretary General of WWF, Rasmus Hansson.

- It is a death sentence for all life in and around a water when the power companies are doing that, Hansson says.

Here in Vinje, where the Aust-Agder, Vest-Agder, Rogaland, Rogaland, Hordaland, Buskerud and Telemark power stations have their meeting point, we find some of the most extensive power developments in Norway. In these scattered built-up areas, most of the waterfalls and water are used to secure southern Norway with power.

However, it was never intended that nature should suffer and receive great wounds. In the summer months the pools should be filled with water, people should have the opportunity to use the areas, and it should be possible to fish on the waters.

The Storting Report No. 18 (2003-2004) recently stated:

“The magazines are replenished throughout the spring and summer months, when the supply is large and the consumption of electricity is low. The filling of the magazines usually continues well into the fall. "

Management Crisis

But something has happened since the landowners back in the 1950s agreed with the state on the conditions for the development of power. In 1991 we got a new energy law that started the development towards an open power market. Towards the end of the 1990s, we had such an open market, and over the last four to five years the companies have started to shut down the magazines in the summer as they do today, Harald Kvålen estimates.

- Since 2001-2002, there has been a change, says Kvålen, and says that Statkraft has drained Langesæ and other water in the municipality every summer in recent years.

- What we see is not a power crisis, this is a management crisis. It is not the politicians who control this. They have given up. Instead, we see that the companies earn huge sums from extracting power for export. I would call this pure looting of natural resources. It seems that several of the licensees have forgotten that they have a social responsibility, he continues.

Børre Rønningen is former mayor of Vinje municipality, now group leader of the Ap in Vinje municipal council and head of the National Association of Vasskraftkommunar (LVK). He too is critical to the management of water resources in Norway's lakes.

- The Norwegian hydropower plants have in recent months been operated in such a way that several large reservoirs have been drained to a level far below normal. We have no evidence to claim that the discharge has been below the target for the lowest water level allowed under the individual licenses, but it is clear that the discharge of several reservoirs has been far below the level that has been normal in previous years, says he.

LVK represents 165 power municipalities throughout Norway. The survey says that in recent months they have received a number of reports from concerned power municipalities that point to extensive damage to nature and the environment following the closure of the water reservoirs.

The fish dies

One of the basic requirements for the power companies is that the reservoirs must be filled during the summer, so that there is enough power available when the cold comes and the power consumption increases. But another and more important reason for filling the magazines in the summer is the biodiversity in and by the waters.

Reidar Borgstrøm, professor of fish biology at the University of Environmental and Biosciences at Ås, points out, among other things, that when the summer water level is kept down in many high mountain reservoirs, several of the most important nutritional animals for fish will not be developed, because the eggs are in the dry part of the waters.

This can be confirmed by Harald Kvålen.

- Langesæ was previously considered one of the best large fishing lakes in Norway, and it was common to get fish from two to six kilos. Today, what is left of the fish out here is skinny, he says.

Today's boat is over a hundred meters from the water's edge.

- There has not been enough water here for the last three or four years for us to get the boat into the water, he says.

In addition to several other landowners, Kvålen is considering suing Statkraft for environmental crime. Mayor Børre Rønningen believes that the closing of the magazines has led to new, unforeseen and extensive damage to nature and the environment.

Rasmus Hansson in the WWF is also concerned about the fish stocks in the waters.

- What we see is direct and active killing of the ecosystem by extreme bottling. These days, trout and char spawn, but they do not reach their natural spawning grounds. The fish are instead crammed into pockets. The trout is an oxygen-demanding fish that cannot tolerate living in small puddles with hot oxygen-poor water, he says.

The requirements from the Directorate for Nature Management show that the power companies have committed to ensuring that the fish stocks maintain natural reproduction to the greatest extent possible. A new impact assessment for NVE re-emphasizes the requirement that the natural living conditions for fish and other plant and animal life be minimized.

Bjarne Oppegård, Secretary General of the Norwegian Hunters and Fishermen's Association (NJFF), has sent a letter to the Minister of Petroleum and Energy Odd Roger Enoksen, where the NJFF points out that they are concerned about the development. NJFF believes that requirements should be introduced for the magazines to be filled throughout the summer, so that the situation that has arisen this summer does not repeat itself.

Maximum profit

Vinje Mayor Børre Rønningen believes that the main reason for this new emptying of the magazines is the power producers' participation in the international energy market.

- The particularly high power prices that have been in this market this summer have meant that the companies have sold power even though this has gone beyond what has been usual. There has been a large export of electric power from Norway in recent months, despite the historically low water level in several reservoirs, he says.

The survey expects oil and energy minister Odd Roger Enoksen to take steps to ensure summer water flow in exposed water reservoirs, and that progress is being made in the notified evaluation of the energy law. However, Rasmus Hansson believes that it is difficult to envisage changes as long as the power companies have the financial advantage of emptying the magazines.

- The Storting has with open eyes unleashed this senseless use of Norwegian nature, he says.

Harald Kvålen, for his part, has no doubt that the power companies are breaking the license conditions.

- Langesæ and the other reservoirs should have been full of water at this time of year. Instead, they have been tapped during the summer. It will take at least two years to fill Langesæ again. But I am afraid that with the power regime we have today, Langesæ will not return to normal water levels for at least ten years, he says.

- Do not lose too much

Vice President of Statkraft, Ragnvald Nærø, says that they are conscious of their responsibilities and that they do not lose more than what they are allowed to do.

- Statkraft always follows the authorities' rules and requirements for how our water reservoirs can be utilized for power production. We are very aware of the problems that draining – and also filling – can cause for the users of watercourses and water. At the same time, we must take into account what constitutes good business and socio-economic management of energy resources, says Nærø.

- Why do you drain during the summer, when you should have enough water in the reservoirs to ensure biological diversity?

- There is often little water in the reservoirs in the summer. What is abnormal this year is that we have received less precipitation than is usual at this time of year. It would be very difficult conditions and probably unacceptably high prices in Norwegian power supply if the producers were not able to use reservoir water in the summer in an extremely dry year such as 2006.

- You are accused of environmental crime when you drain the magazines as much as this year?

- It is true that the water level in many places is lower than what is usual at this time of year, but within the maneuvering regulations that apply. I can promise that Statkraft's employees will do their utmost to ensure that the water is used as correctly as possible – both in the short and long term. Do not forget that we assess our dispositions every day – also to ensure that we have enough water in the reservoirs until the snowmelt starts next spring, says Nærø.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy had no comment on the bottling of the water reservoirs before our deadline. They are working to respond, among other things, to inquiries from the LVK and the Norwegian Hunting and Fishing Association.

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