Interview with Pedro Brufao, Rios con Vida (Spain)

1.Please provide a list and very short summary of the project(s) you have worked on and their status.

Forty hydropower dams in Catalonia have been forced to release more water due to our efforts. The small, abandonded Guadalope Dam in Teruel will soon be demolished, restoring one of the best trout rivers of Spain. We have a campaign to remove Palombera Dam in Cantabria, the first of a series of three dams in the basin. Our report on instream flows on the Nansa River showed that ENDESA was causing great damage to the river, which led to criminal charges and ENDESA releasing more water into the river. We have already succeeded in removing a small dam (Azud de Camijanes) on the Nansa.

Our "Adopt the Bidosa River" project has shed light on a series of very small dams which stop migrating fish from reaching their spawning grounds, and five dams on the Bidosa have already been demolished. Río Viejas Dam in Cáceres, A 7-meter-high hydropower dam which blocks 40 km of spawning area near the National Park of Monfragüe, will be soon demolished due to our report and actions prompting public awareness and administrative decision. A polluting fish farm has been shut down, improving flows and habitat on the Viejas River. Molló Dam near the French border is an illegal hydropower dam, and will be torn down in the near future - our reports to the Environmental Attorney made the Agencia Catalana del Agua withdraw their illegal permits.

We are attempting to at least open the gates of Alcalá del Río and Cantillana in Seville, two large hydro dams decimating populations of sturgeon and other species. The dams are safety risks, and may break. No success so far: they are mammoths.

2.When approaching a dam removal project, what is the first thing you have to know, the first step, the first thing one should tackle?

The first thing to do is find out the dam's legal status by consulting the official Water Register. The information in the Water Register is outdated, but provides a clue to possible leverage points on the dam owner and governing agencies. The law is helpful, but the definitive weapons are political and social pressure.

3.Considering all the cases you've encountered, what makes the strongest argument for removal?

Uselessness and economics. Environmental arguments are less important.

4.In your campaign(s), how important was it to have alternatives or replacements for what was lost in dam re-operation or removal?

Alternatives are always basic to our campaigns. Demand-side management is the best tool. Water and energy needs can be met using less electricity and water. The use of economic arguments is also a constant.

5.What lessons have you learned?

For most of the public, there are many myths surrounding dams: dams are forever, dams are good for the sake of dams, dams are monuments of our civilization, every dam is necessary, engineers never fail, there is no flawed dam project, dams cause no harm, rivers are just channels of water, rivers have surpluses of water, rivers are made of liquid you can pollute and sent away, fish are less important than humans, environmental interests protect fish not humans, levees provide safety from flooding, water gets lost into the sea, water cannot reach the sea, nature must be corrected to serve our purposes. We have to reject those myths by using rational arguments such as economics and alternatives. These efforts take a long we need a lot of patience to change minds.

6.If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

Focus more on increasing public awareness and fundraising. We lack both the time and money to meet all of our goals, and the means to improve scientific data.

7.Who are your river restoration heroes, and why?

Javier Martínez-Gil and Pedro Arrojo, of "Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua," for their commitment to make us understand what a river is. Carlos García de Leániz, now a professor at University of Wales, and a specialist in Atlantic salmon, the first one who demolished dams in Spain, something pretty heretical ten years ago. Oliver A. Houck, my professor of Environmental Law at Tulane Law School, for his lifelong efforts to advocate for the rights of nature. I will always be in debt to him.

8.Do you anticipate any repercussions for river restoration efforts from the financial crisis?

Environment and human rights related to water are always put aside when crisis shows up. We've got to let the public know that river restoration is cheaper, healthier and much more profitable than the alternative of doing nothing or going forward with our mad "fluvicide."

More information: 

Dam Removal: Learning from the Pros

WRR Dec. 2008

Pedro Brufao
Catedrático E.U. Interino
Derecho Administrativo
Facultad de Derecho
Universidad de Extremadura
Av. de la Universidad, s/n
Tel: +00-34-927 25 70 00
or +00-34-620 76 81 38