Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Impacts of Iceland's Karahnjukar Dam More Serious Than Expected

Iceland Review online
Highland Dam Impacts Life in East Iceland Lake

The impact the highland dam at Kárahnjúkar has on the lake Lagarfljót by
Egilsstaðir in East Iceland is considered to be more severe than earlier
anticipated. Local authorities, landowners, environmentalists and MPs
have expressed their concern over the situation.

"Life is almost over in Lagarfljót," Gunnar Jónsson, who chairs the
district council of Fljótsdalshérað, commented to Fréttablaðið.

When Hálslón, the reservoir of the Kárahnjúkar power plant, which
started operating in 2007, fills up, water from the lagoon overflows
into the channel of the glacial river Jökulsá á Dal.

With the dam's establishment, Jökulsá á Dal was made to flow into
Lagarfljót and glacial sediment increases the water's turbidity or

In the past months, Landsvirkjun, the national power company, has
presented reports on erosion of the banks of Lagarfljót and other
consequences of the glacial river's rechanneling.

The erosion is more extensive and the water level higher than what all
mathematical models indicated.

Gunnar revealed to Fréttablaðið on Monday his concerns about land erosion.

"The raising of the base water level by the bridge across Lagarfjót by
[the farms] Fellabær and Hóll in Hjaltastaðaþinghá increases erosion of
sensitive river banks," the district council wrote in a protocol, where
Landsvirkjun is urged to take counteracting measures.

"Landsvirkjun has never wanted to interfere in this matter but that
might be changing now," Gunnar commented.

Gunnar stated that farmlands and natural relics are at risk, islets and
banks to the north of the bridge. "You can already see the impacts on
the diversity of this very beautiful bird paradise. It pains me to
witness this," Gunnar, who owns the land Egilsstaðir I, to which the
islets belong, remarked.

Erosion is reported at a 50-kilometer stretch along the banks of
Lagarfljót. Gunnar describes it as a completely different lake.

"It lies higher in winter, the water flow has increased and the water
that comes from the dam is warmer. Therefore Lagarfljót hardly ever
freezes in winter as it used to. With northerly winds the waves crash
against the banks and tear them down," he explained.

Gunnar stated yesterday that the latest "shock" had come at a meeting
between representatives of Fljótsdalshérað and Landsvirkjun where a
report on the life in the lake was discussed.

It turned out that Lagarfljót has become much murkier than it used to
be, which hinders photosynthesis of algae. "Fish is therefore largely
disappearing from the lake," Gunnar explained.

Information officer at Landsvirkjun Magnús Þór Gylfason pointed out that
the report isn't finished. He also stated that the environmental impact
assessment (EIA) of the dam had warned before its construction that
conditions of the lake's biosphere would worsen with increased flow of

"I don't believe a license for constructing the dam would ever have been
issued if this had been known," Pétur Elísson, who chairs the
Association of Landowners by Lagarfljót, told Fréttablaðið.

Landowners discussed the matter yesterday evening. "It is very serious
if the biosphere in Lagarfljót is dying. It's a catastrophe," Pétur
exclaimed. He pointed out that this also affects the lake's side rivers
as fish migrate into them. "This is a death sentence."

However, Pétur stressed that the outcome of Landsvirkjun's research
isn't final yet.

In 2001, Minister for the Environment Siv Friðleifsdóttir revoked the
Icelandic National Planning Agency's decision that the Kárahnjúkar dam
shouldn't be constructed.

"Because of the character of Lagarfjót and its biosphere it is the
ministry's evaluation that the changes through glacial sediment will not
have a severe impact on the lake's biosphere," Siv concluded.

Pétur admitted that it was clear that the dam at Kárahnjúkar would lead
to worsening water transparency in Lagarfljót. "But no one thought the
situation would be this serious."

"I don't think we can brag about clean energy to attract tourists if we
kill the biosphere of several hundred square kilometers," he commented.

Pétur stated landowners whose properties have been damaged have not been
approached by Landsvirkjun. "We are being walked all over. They think
it's their personal affair but we should at least be informed about what
counteracting measures they're planning to take, both in regard to the
water level and biosphere."

"It's too early to panic," Jósef Valgarð Þorvaldsson, chair of the
Lagarfljót Fishing Association, told Fréttablaðið. He doesn't want to
draw any conclusions before the report on the lake's biosphere has been

Left-Green MP Álfheiður Ingadóttir requested a meeting with the
parliament's Environment and Communications Committee to discuss the
condition of Lagarfljót yesterday.

"I find it very important that we learn from the experience of the
Kárahnjúkar power plant and give nature the benefit of a doubt,"
Álfheiður commented.

Author and environmentalist Andri Snær Magnason, who actively protested
the Kárahnjúkar dam and power plant, blogged: "Now what many people
feared has come to light. Lagarfljót is dead. One cannot say it came as
a surprise. I wrote an entire book about it," he wrote in reference to
his much-acclaimed Dreamland.

Andri Snær warns that Lake Mývatn in Northeast Iceland may be next, in
the vicinity of which the controversial Bjarnarflag geothermal project
is planned.

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