High water, court case, destructive bike paths, underwater story telling, dreaming of dam removal and celebrating the Vjosa. At the end of the year, it’s time to take stock. Ours goes like this:

In 2023, we kept the Sava River in Slovenia at the forefront of our efforts, as it is constantly threatened by new projects that would destroy this exceptional river once and for all.

The year began with an urgent and yet promising start, when we collected funds for the translation of a report which proved that HPP Mokrice – and the other planned hydroelectric power plants on the Sava – are neither sensible nor necessary in terms of energy nor economy. The Slovenian Native Fish Society submitted this translation to the Administrative Court of Slovenia on time and on World Water Day, March 22, the main oral hearing in the HPP Mokrice case followed, and two months later it became official that the court confirmed the lawsuit from DPRS and revoked the investor’s construction permit for HPP Mokrice, which after 8 years court battles meant a great victory for Sava.

In March, another extraordinary success story unfolded. After many years of actions, protests, research, talks and negotiations, the last large free-flowing river of the old continent – the Vjosa – became the first river national park in Europe rather than a huge reservoir. At the grand finale of Balkan Rivers Tour 1 in Tirana on May 20, 2016, the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama did rejected a kayak covered with signatures, a petition in favor of the protection of the Vjose River. Seven years later, on March 15, 2023 in Tepelene, he added his signature on the piece of paper establishing the national park and protecting the river. This historic achievement required an extraordinary amount of work, collaboration and ingenuity, so hats off to everyone involved. We are glad that we were part of this extraordinary story and we hope that there will be many more like it.

Back in Slovenia, unfortunately, not everything was going so smoothly and in favor of the rivers. In April, we drew attention to the catastrophic and completely unnecessary intervention in the banks and bed of the Sava Bohinjka. The Bled-Bohinj bicycle path construction project – made possible with EU Green Transition funds – showed in the cruelest way what these transition plans look like in reality for nature; diggers in the water, ignoring locals, fishermen and experts, dubious consents of professional services and cumbersome business at the expense of destroying the last preserved parts of this beautiful river. Sadly, our intervention did not stop the greed-driven destruction, but at least it brought it before the eyes of the people and discussion and possibly legal action continue this sad story.

In June, the Green Transformation conference was held in Maribor, to which Rok Rozman was invited as a guest speaker. He had an interesting discussion panel with the general manager of Dravski Elektrarn Maribor, Mr. Damjan Semet. The exchange of their opinions indicated the mutual desire for success and the awareness that the green transition will not solve the (yet) non-existent energy crisis, but will rather cause it, and will not solve the changing climate, but it will cause the destruction of the environment and provide business of unimaginable proportions. It was clear that both sides knew what was being said in between the lines.

In October and November, BRD participated in a series of workshops on the topic of the removal of Cajhn’s dam on the Sava Bohinjka, organized by the Revivo Institute. This  barrier is located just above the confluence of the two branches of the Sava between the towns of Bled and Radovljica. Due to high water and poor maintenance, this dam provides only minimal energy output, but prevents the passage of fish and sediments in the most crucial part of this alpine river. Talks on the topic of his possible removal at our initiative have been going on since 2016, but now they are becoming more and more…concrete. In the 2024, BRD will join forces with the Revivo Institute and try to provide all the necessary analyzes for a decision about what to do with the dam in the future.

Throughout the year – especially after the August floods – we tried to keep the public inform about the dangerous (and often covert) activities of the new Slovenian government, which, as far as the environment and nature are concerned, (as well as the abuse of crisis situations for business), is much worse than the previous one. Since the media mostly gave up and only sang the government’s praises or rewarded them with silence regarding important topics, we decided to shed light on certain government moves and put them in context. This, of course, was not to the liking of many as they considered us nature conservationists to be of the political left or liberally-oriented and as such we were seen as ‘traitors’. It was interesting to observe the confusion in the eyes of decision-makers, large ‘conservation’ organizations and the general public as we shared rational observations. We remain on the side of reason and objectivity, which cannot be found either on the left or right political pole. It is for this reason that we have and will continue to draw attention to the proposal of the (Flood) Reconstruction Act, which the government plans to adopt shortly, which is disastrous for nature, flood safety and the Slovenian budget.

We were also active in the field of film making, which proved to be one of the most important tools for reaching the wider masses and making them aware of the importance of preserved rivers for the wild world and us humans. The distribution of the feature-length documentary One for the River: The Sava Story continued throughout the year and currently reaches 115 events with more than 13,000 viewers who saw the film live. In total, the film was selected for the program of 28 film festivals in 16 countries, where it collected 12 awards. The distribution will continue in 2024 with the screening of the film on the television screens of the TV SLO 1 program and the publication of the film online.

But this year we also released a new film, this time a short video On, In & Under the Sava on the subject of diving and rafting on the Sava River in search of huchen (Danube Salmon). Although short, the film has so far been selected for 15 film festivals in 10 countries and even became the best short film at two paddling-specific film festivals in Canada, bringing the story of the importance of protecting the Sava River to new and expanding audiences.

Our work, approach and the thinking behind the efforts to protect the last wild rivers in Europe have been presented in a book entitled Waterworlds. The book presents the stories of 12 people who have dedicated their lives to protecting water and sets out a whole bunch of weighty arguments about why maintaining the functioning of water ecosystems is useful and meaningful.

But dealing with watercourses, public money and common sense has gone awry on the sunny side of the Alps (and elsewhere), and given the minimal disagreement or apathy of the majority, it will be difficult to reverse the trend. But the intervening success stories, however small, show that it’s worth trying. At the same time, it is useful to keep the playfulness of the spirit, the joy of life, and ample humor, because in this way everything is easier and more feasible. So we will continue like this, whatever happens!

May luck be on the side of good people, common sense and wild rivers in 2024 & thank you to everyone who supported our campaigns and efforts this past year!