BALKAN RIVERS TOUR 4 – WEEK 1 RECAP
Wild Romanian Rivers
As kayakers, we saw the rain as a good omen. A sign of a great week to come. So when we woke to a cold and rainy morning after a full day of packing, phone calls and last-minute emails while prepping for the first week of BRT4 in Romania, stoke levels began to rise with the river levels.
Romania. A country unknown to the Balkan Rivers Tour team, but very alluring. We have heard stories of thick forests, rich culture and wild rivers. Using the strategy of completely filling the van until there isn’t space for one more piece of gear, we are ready to start the 1.500 km drive from little village of Zgornja Lipnica in Slovenia to even smaller village called Vadu Oii in Romania, just upstream of the confluence of Basca Mica and Basca Mare rivers, on the border between Transylvania and Walachia.
The Balkan River Defence (BRD) crew have taken on a new formula for this year’s action, with 3, one-week mini tours in new locations! Instead of changing the location every day we will set a basecamp for each week and use it as a place to network, develop a river defence plan and kayak, fish or hike. Balkan Rivers Tour’s purpose has always been to expose amazing places and to directly help passionate locals fighting for their rivers and BRT4 Week 1 in Romania was a perfect example of this in action!
This time we were going on a mission to help passionate Romanian river defenders. The craziest of them, Catalin Campeanu, was contacting us via emails and Facebook messages since our first tour in 2016. He then decided to join us for the third Balkan Rivers Tour to make sure we hear about their stunning rivers and the dangers they are facing. Seeing determination and a spark in his eyes at the raging party at Tara Fest, deep in the canyon of that incredible turquoise Montenegrin river, we gave him a promise: “Catalin, we are coming to your neck of woods next year to do all we can to help you protect your river!”
The action-packed week between April 15th and 20th was one for the books. Balkan Rivers Tour gathered a diverse group of activists and 23 kayakers from 11 countries (Romania, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia and Mexico). We paddled 5 incredible rivers and spent countless hours discussing alternatives, solutions and creative ways to keep these rivers wild. The Basca Mica, Basca Mare, Basca Rozilei, Buzau and Jiu are all rivers that you have to experience in a kayak.
We arrived in the village of Vadu Oii in south-eastern Romania late at night after 2 days on the road. Catalin met us on the road leading to the New Old Village campsite, a brand-new camp that is in its opening this season, after being an idea in heads of 3 really good friends for more than 15 years. Stunned by the location, designs, little details, (strength of local liquor called tuica) and the hospitality of the locals we immediately felt at home, yet at the same time like we were in a kind of fairy tale. Morning arrived soon and we had a day to set the basecamp and scout the local river. In the evening we were ready for people to arrive and the next morning the first week of BRT4 could commence. Water levels were just perfect on the river right next to the base camp so we all headed up to Basca Mica and enjoyed it’s slides, drops and scenery.
First thing in the morning we headed to the mayor of biggest town in the Buzau Valley, Nehoiu. We presented our views and amazing sustainable tourism potential of the area and told him we came to Romania because of wild river and untouched nature and not to see a new dam. Then Catalin dove into details about illegal dam construction on Basca Mare and together we managed to get mayor’s support in the battle for free flowing rivers and the Buzau river clean up on the last day of the tour in Romania. After that we had to get wet so we put our boats on the Buzau River, that has a dam release and due to local hydro company keeping the release times a secret it was a lottery to get the high flow. I guess we were ironically lucky that day…
Basca Mare was a mind blowing experience for all, in terms of kayaking and with the absurd dam construction site. With a boulder-packed, class IV middle canyon and a super fun class III-IV lower section; it’s a river you can paddle over and over again. And we did, 3 times! After all that time on the water we went on an exploration mission up the logging road for 2 hours, only to receive a harsh slap of reality when we reached the dam construction site. Seeing the destruction made by the construction of this controversial dam, we could instantly understand why Catalin and his friends have been fighting for this river for the last 5 years. The dam is in the midst of a Natura 2000 protected area called Penteleu and is currently on hold due to the collapse of one of the tunnels which provided the construction site with materials. If this super illegal project gets completed a tall dam would block the river completely, flooding the side valley of the 3 major tributaries and diverting the entire flow of water downstream of the dam into a 20km long tunnel that would provide the poorly designed Siriu reservoir with more water. Basically, the Basca Mare will only be a distant memory.
Our protest there was small and symbolic. But every single person there saw what is going on deep in the Romanian forest. Each kayaker and local present left with a determined look on their face – we will do everything possible to help stop this unnecessary massacre.
A day with 3 full on activities proved to be very useful. Local mayor of Gura Teghii was more reluctant to expose support for free flowing Basca Mare, which just showed how political these decisions are. It is not about general opinion, nature conservation or common sense, unfortunately all around Europe it is still about making big money with the support of politicians and investors. Despite that we did our job at the Gura Teghii municipality and then headed straight back to stunning Basca Mare and managed to make a little recon mission in the upper canyon. There were stories about boulder gardens and technical drops, but they proved to be just stories; regardless of that the upper, middle and lower canyon of Basca Mare are simply wonderful parts of nature with the river winding it’s way amongst the old growth forests. We finished the day with fly fishing lesson for all – it was such a pleasure watching all these kayakers avidly swinging fly rods first at the meadow and then in the river. What a day!
This was a day to spend with kids. Who better to talk to about the future of stunning rivers than them? We brought kayaks, banner making materials, slack line, soccer ball and loads of energy and had the coolest time with them and their teachers. Starting with the presentation on Balkan River Defence and a discussion about dams and possible alternatives we were changing the lecture room and the playground in front of the school according to the April rain showers. Then we headed back to the campsite to get everything ready for the final day.
The final day was a blast. With almost 100 people and even the mayor attending the clean up event we managed to fill in those garbage trucks with garbage from the Buzau River next to Nehoiu and we felt the right to celebrate this with kayaking. Then we got everything ready for the evening event with The Undamaged screening in our New Old Village base camp. The program proceeded with some amazing traditional music, dancing event, guitar next to the camp fire and then a full on raging Balkan Party till the morning. This was a day!
Day 7 – extra day
The following morning, we packed the BRT4 Romania basecamp and sat in the vans for a 6-hour drive to a very special river, one with a powerful success story. Local activists have been fighting for the Jiu River and working hard to stop the illegal dam construction which was being inside a National Park for years. The dedication and fearlessness saw the group succeeded, and just in the nick of time. The supreme court admitted that the company Hidroelectrica – run by the Romanian government – did not follow the necessary procedures and laws and was ordered to stop the dam construction even though it was 95% complete. This concrete monster now stands with opened gates allowing the river to fun through, feeding the awesome class III rapids and an opportunity to expand eco-tourism along it’s banks. This victory story is one that motivates us in the face of so many rivers in threat.
That day we kayaked the Jiu for Arthur – a Romanian kayaker and rafter that passed away exactly a year ago while guiding a raft at the Save the Jiu River event. Accidents happen on rivers, this is a fact, and it felt extremely good to be there with a cool crew to show tribute to deceased, his family and friends. We did our best to bring good energy back to the fatal rapid and all the friends. This one goes to Arthur, his family and the whole whitewater tribe!
You can find full photo gallery and video on the links bellow:
The week in Romania is a proof that Nature Conservation can be a Rock’n’Roll! We can combine good times, partying, kayaking and activism that makes a change to better. You can’t really fight against greed and corruption with bad energy and ever present feeling of being overwhelmed, can you? Thank you to everybody that joined us and participated in any way. A huge thank you to Catalin Campeanu and his Green Adventure, thanks to Adi and Octa from New Old Village, thanks to Irina from Lat’s do it Romania!, thanks to Calin Dejeu for all the support with open letter and local media and special thanks to all our sponsors that enable us fight for the right thing.
All our actions are still echoing in the open letter that was sent to decision makers. We are very much looking forward to their reply.
OPEN LETTER TO THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION
Upon arriving home we unpacked the vans, dried our kayak gear and uploaded all the media from a wild week of adventures and activism. We also sat down at the computers to put what we witnessed and experienced into an open letter with regards to the dam projects on the Bâsca Mare.
The letter (full letter attached below), has been sent to the European Commission, DG Environment; the Secretariat of the Bern Convention; the IUCN European Regional Office; the President of Romania; the Government of Romania; the Secretariat of the ICPDR: the Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat; and the Ramsar Convention Secretariat.
It describes the Bâsca Mare River as a top asset of Romania’s natural heritage and one of the very few relatively big rivers in Romanian Carpathians not sacrificed yet for hydropower developments.
Our open letter outlines:
- The laws being broken in Romania and ignored by the EU
– the illegal Hidroelectrica dam project under way on the upper Bâsca Mare River breaches many EU directives and conventions
– locals that depend on the river for their livelihood were not consulted about this project, which means a lack of implementation of Aarhus Convention
– unsustainable hydropower plant that would dry out the river breaches Water Framework Directive, severe negative impact on biodiversity breaches Habitats Directive
– the illegal building ground breaches the Carpathian Convention, which states that “the Parties shall pursue policies aiming at conserving natural watercourses”
All of this this gives Romanian people an impression that their leaders do not respect EU guidelines and ratified conventions despite being a member of EU for more than 10 years and leaves locals with no other option but to ask for sanctions from EU.
- The endangered species affected
– the damn construction site sits in Penteleu, a part of Natura 2000 protected areas network. Bâsca Mare River is the main riverine habitat of the area, where 10 fish species found in the river will perish if the dam is completed, and 4 of them are a Natura 2000 protected species. – – – the significant ecological impact will also hit protected species such as otter and Carabus variolosus, for which the site was designated.
– the diversion of Bâsca Mare River would lead to loss of aquatic ecosystem, deterioration of linked ecosystems on banks
- Highlights sustainable tourism as a solution
– sustainable ecotourism potential is obvious and would provide a reliable income to the locals who prefer to live in harmony with nature
- And outlines the state of the courts
– Hidroelectica, the state-owned company that controls most of Romania’s hydropower Business, seems to be above the law, and because of that, Romania keeps being in trouble in the European Union
– the infringement case 2015/4036, about the breaching of EU law by hydropower plants in Romania, has led to no results due to the lack of action from the European Commission, which did not take it to the European Court of Justice yet. This lack of will to impose the EU law actually, encouraged the Romanian authorities to continue illegal projects like the one sealing the fate of Bâsca Mare River.
– the case 2015/4036 is not taken to Court yet, and the letter urges the European Commission to include the illegal diversion of Basca Mare River in this case.
– all this is happening while Romania holds presidency of European Union, promoting environmental protection around the world while destroying European natural heritage at home
WHAT CAN YOU DO?!
- Want to support river conservation in Romania! Contribute to the crowd funding campaign to fuel the legal battles to protect these rivers.
- If you are a student, apply for our Students for Rivers Camp and join BRD’s River Intellectuals who are using research and brains to protect rivers
- Join us for the next week of BRT4 and make plan to join Soča River week of BRT4 July 7-13th for film screenings, kayaking, parties and protests! Balkan Rivers Tour 4 INFO