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Are Levees to Blame for Drying Rivers?

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Are Levees to Blame for Drying Rivers?

Horse at Síða, by Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

Near Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Minister for the Environment Sigrún Magnúsdóttir states that temporary measures will be taken to respond to the drought and drying up of rivers in the Skaftárhreppur region. She believes a future solution is urgently needed, RÚV reports.

Farmers in this South Iceland region have in recent weeks brought attention to the lack of drinking water in the area and trout rivers drying up. The local government describes the situation as an emergency. Grenlækur creek, which is on the natural heritage register and one of the country’s best trout rivers, has dried up on a 10 km stretch, leaving fish dead in puddles in the river bed.

A committee, appointed by two ministries, has been working on the issue in recent weeks. In coming days, it will apply to Orkustofnun, the National Energy Authority, for a temporary permission to direct water from Skaftá river into the lava field.

Sigrún describes the issue as very complicated and controversial.

On Friday, last week, Hörður Davíðsson, a farmer in the area opened two pipes in a levee along Skaftá, pipes which Orkustofnun closed in the spring. Since the middle of last century, the Icelandic Road Administration has raised levees north of the Ring Road west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur to protect against flooding from Skaftá river, RÚV reports.

Farmers in the area blame the levees for the drying up of the rivers. Hörður fears reacting to the drought now is too late. Environmentalists state that reacting to the situation is necessary to ensure flow into Grenlækur and Tungulækur creeks.

At a recent meeting of environmental groups and local residents, it was revealed that levels of drinking water are very low and for the first time in 90 years, electrical power plants can no longer operate. It was suggested at the meeting that dams and levees be removed, since they hinder the natural flow of water out into the lava field of Eldhraun.

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