Giving fish a free passage in Sweden

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Fish passage in Västerås © 2018 Peter Berg, Norconsult. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions

Barriers that stop fish from finding food or reproducing are serious environmental problems. They threaten not only fish species but also the animals and organisms which depend on them. This is the focus of a LIFE project in Sweden.

Rich Waters is the first LIFE integrated project in Sweden. Integrated projects are large-scale projects that let beneficiaries gather funding from other EU funds as well as national and private sector sources.

The project is looking to tackle the most serious environmental problems affecting water in the Northern Baltic Sea River Basin. These include eutrophication, pollution, poor water planning and connectivity. The latter means reconnecting rivers blocked by barriers like ponds, power plants, dams and road tunnels.

In the Northern Baltic water region covered by the Rich Waters project, 60% of all lakes and rivers have barriers which block the passage of migrating fish and, as a result, threaten biodiversity.

As part of the project, the city of Västerås and the city-owned hydropower company Mälarenergi are building passageways to allow fish and fauna to migrate freely.

Pathway through a city

Västerås lies on the shore of Lake Mälaren, the third-largest freshwater lake in Sweden. Lake Mälaren is home to about 30 species of migratory fish, including the endangered asp (Leuciscus aspius). But fish looking for spawning areas upstream along the river Svartån, which runs through the city, face many obstacles.

The project team are constructing fish and fauna passages around 2 of these obstacles. One is at a millpond and another at an old hydro-plant called Tubinhuset, which was built in 1891 and has local historical importance.

The city started construction of these passages in August 2018, and hopes that they will be open in early spring 2019.

Preserving sensitive cultural heritage

“The fauna passage in Svartån creates a natural stream for the fish, while keeping most of the beautiful dam as a recreational area for our citizens and visitors”, explained Susanna Hansen, city water coordinator who oversees the project.

This part of the Rich Waters project shows how cities and water authorities can ensure safe migratory passages for fish even when they are blocked by buildings like mills or hydro-plants which might be protected or culturally sensitive.

Describing work on the century-old hydro-plant, Johan Lind, project manager at Mälarenergi said “We’ve changed a small part of the dam, but the turbine house and the surrounding environment are kept as they are.”

The team have installed low sloping grids which prevent fish from ending up in turbines and instead find the migration trails downstream.

Modelling for other regions

The County Administrative Boards of Västmanland, Uppsala, Stockholm, Södermanland and Örebro are working together to develop methods and priority models to achieve more and better migration routes for fish and other aquatic organisms in the Northern Baltic water district.

Thanks to this cooperation, the Rich Waters project is expected to lead to more free passages for fish at power stations and dams in the region.

Related links

Other actions within the Rich Waters integrated project

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