Sloveniaʼs Minister of the Environment Jure Leben has announced a decree that will cancel the construction of eight previously planned hydroelectric power plants along the river Mura, in order to protect the river, the Budapest Business Journal has learned.
The decision has been welcomed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Slovenian NGOs, but rapid confirmation by the Slovenian government is necessary before the measure can enter into legal force. Ending the construction of the plants was understood to be an integral part of the coalition agreement when the Slovenian government took office last fall.
According to Lebenʼs draft regulation, Slovenian power company Dravske elektrarne Maribor will be deprived of its concession for the planning and construction of the hydroelectric plants. The minister also confirmed a halt of the environmental impact assessment procedure for the construction of Hrastje-Mota, the first of the plants.
"Environment Minister Leben has hit the nail on the head. He has been very quick to implement the Slovenian governmentʼs promise to protect the free-flowing Mura River for future generations," said Arno Mohl, Mura-Drava-Danube Program Manager at the WWF.
According to the press release, the decision was made because of the irreversible negative environmental impact, and the threat to the drinking water supply represented by the planned power plants to the 46,000 inhabitants along the Mura.
It was further stressed that the plants and their consequent damage to the river system would be in conflict with the Mura Biosphere Reserve in Slovenia, which was officially opened in January 2019. Generally, construction would jeopardize the protection and sustainable development of the Mura Region.
WWF has said it is calling on Sloveniaʼs government to swiftly approve the regulation after the mandatory two-week public consultation period, making it legally binding. Mohl said "this would mean the end of power plants along the Mura, and the biosphere reserve could be filled with life."
The floodplains in Slovenia were recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve in July 2018, before the official designation in January.
Together with river stretches in neighboring Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia, the Mura-Drava-Danube is poised to become the worldʼs first five-country biosphere reserve. The river basins in Hungary and Croatia were already designated as biosphere reserves in 2012, and Serbia followed in 2017.
The Austrian Mura on the border with Slovenia is the last piece of the puzzle necessary to complete the international initiative. The recognition of the Lower Murtal Biosphere Reserve in Styria, Austria, is expected in June 2019.
Should that happen "[...] a total of 850,000 hectares of unique natural and cultural landscape on the so-called ‘Amazon of Europe’ would come under UNESCO protection," Mohl noted.