Hydropower Plant Buk Bijela's impact on the Tara river canyon, Montenegro and B&H

The idea of construction of the HPP “Buk Bijela” on the river Drina from the 1970s is still valid and could be realized in 2016, despite of years of strong opposition by local citizens, NGOs and experts.

The construction of the Hydro Power Plant (HPP) “Buk Bijela” on the river Drina in Bosnia (flowing from the Montenegrin rivers Tara and Piva) started in the 1970s was stopped in 1974 because of the huge opposition of domestic and international experts - over 500 scientists from around the world, as well as the World Congress of geographers in Edinburgh in 1984 were against this project because of the catastrophic consequences on the environment. In 2003, the Joint Committee of the Republic of Srpska and the Republic of Montenegro (at that time still part of The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro) for the construction of HPP “Buk Bijela” harmonized the Agreement on the implementation and construction of this hydroelectric system, that the produced electricity would be divided in a ratio of 70/30 per cent in favor of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The construction of the HPP would cause flooding of the canyons of the rivers Tara, Piva and Sutjeska in Montenegro. The Tara River basin is recognized as a World Biosphere Reserve – the UNESCO «Man and Biosphere» (M&B), and a segment of the Tara Canyon is listed as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. Other parts of the canyon are zoned with a special protection regime within the Durmitor National Park. Besides, since 1991 the Republic of Montenegro has declared itself an Ecological State, establishing the national and legal basis for the relation to nature, and committing itself to its protection in accordance with: The UN 1972 Declaration on Human Environment, The 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, The World Charter on Nature (1982), and the Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development (1992). In 2004, in a reaction to the project, the NGO "Most" from Žabljak, Montenegro, stated that the flooding of the Tara River canyon would affect the natural equilibrium of the entire region and would represent a violation of the Natura 2000 system; The Seville Strategy for Biosphere Reserves 1995; and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Natural Heritage from 1972. The citizens and environmental NGOs organised protests, an online petition, and other forms of media campaigns joined under the name “I don´t want a swamp, I want Tara”. The NGO "Most" received support from the "European Nature Heritage Fund - Euronatur" from Germany and "IUCN Europe", as well as from a large number of environmental NGOs and individuals in the region. Together with other 30 NGOs from Montenegro they drafted the Declaration on the Protection of the Tara River, asking for respect of its ecological statues, and a possibility of referendum in which all citizens of Montenegro would voice their opinion. Also, UNESCO and IUCN strongly opposed the project and USAID said that construction of the system “Buk Bijela” is not economically justified. Consequently, The Parliament of the Republic of Montenegro adopted The Tara Declaration, while the Bosnia and Herzegovina Ministerial Council has demanded that the Republic of Srpska authorities reconsider the realization of the project. Finally, the project was cancelled by a decision of the Government of Montenegro. In 2012, the Republic of Srpska (RS) initiated a new project including the establishment of a joint company with the German company RWE Innogy and Elektroprivreda RS, with the ownership share of 60 versus 40 per cent in favor of the German partner. The construction of HPP Buk Bijela, Foča, Paunci and Sutjeska was planned for 2014, with total power of 260 MW, and at a cost of 623,647,600 US dollars. RWE's study reached the conclusion that only the construction of HPP Buk Bijela is economically viable, while the other three were not. Once again local NGOs from Montenegro, led by Green home and Ozon stood up against the project opposing the adoption of project EIA finding the project unsustainable and causing negative impact in a trans-boundary context. The Government of the Republic of Srpska and the company RWE Innogy were unable to agree on a concession fee, and the foreign partner withdrew from the project implementation in June 2013. At the beginning of 2016, the ministry of energy of the RS announced it will award concession for the construction of the HPP Buk Bijela to the “Hidroelektrane na Drini”, a subsidiary of Elektroprivreda RS. The HPP will have power output of 93 MW and annual electricity generation of 332 GWh. The total investment is estimated to 220 million USD and will be provided from loans. The project has already obtained some necessary documentation, including EIA study. However, as of May 2016, the negotiations on the concession are still ongoing.
Basic Data
NameHydropower Plant Buk Bijela's impact on the Tara river canyon, Montenegro and B&H
ProvinceRepublic of Srpska
SiteFoča and Srbinje
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
The HPP “Buk Bijela” proposed location at River Drina was 10 km downstream from the town Foča, 9 km upstream from the town Srbinje, and 8 km from the Montenegrin border. The HPP would have power of 450 MW, generate a billion and one hundred million kWh of electricity per year, and water reservoir of 410 million m3 capacity. Building HPP Buk Bjela would cause flooding of around 12 to 18 km of the Tara canyon. The project plan from 2012 proposed building four HPPs with a total power of 260 MW.
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Level of Investment (in USD)220,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected PopulationAround 10,000
Start Date1970
Company Names or State EnterprisesElektroprivreda RS (Elektroprivreda RS) from Bosnia and Herzegovina - Domestic partner on the project proposal from 2012
Montmontaza from Croatia - Croatian company, Interested in concessions for the HPP Buk Bijela construction
Vijadukt from Slovenia - Slovenian company, interested in concessions for the HPP Buk Bijela construction
Hidrogradnja from Bosnia and Herzegovina - B&H company, interested in concessions for the HPP Buk Bijela construction
EFT group from United Kingdom - Interested in concessions for the HPP Buk Bijela construction
Institute of protection, ecology and informatics, Banja Luka from Bosnia and Herzegovina - Author of EIA of HPP Foča from 2012
Civil Engineering Institute, Banja Luka from Bosnia and Herzegovina - Author of EIA of HPP Buk Bjela from 2012
RWE Innogy from Germany - German company, foreign partner on the project proposal from 2012
Hidroelektrane na Drini (HE na Drini) from Bosnia and Herzegovina - Potential concession holder
Relevant government actorsThe Government of Republic of Montenegro; The Government of Republic of Srpska; The Bosnia and Herzegovina Ministerial Council; The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro; The Ministry for Spatial Planning and Environment of Montenegro; The Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining of Republic of Srpska
International and Financial InstitutionsUnited States Agency for International Development (USAID) (USAID) from United States of America - Study on economic viability of the project from 2003
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) - Potential investor
International Monetary Fund (FMI) - Potential investor
UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
The World Bank (WB) - Potential investor
European Investment Bank (EIB) - Potential investor
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersNGO Most; NGO Ozon; NGO Green Home; the European Nature Heritage Fund – Euronatur from Germany; NP Durmitor; UNESCO; IUCN; Universities in Montenegro and Serbia; the Serbia and Montenegro Olympic volleyball team; National and international biologists
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement
Potential: Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseMigration/displacement
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Project temporarily suspended
Project idea renewed
Development of AlternativesNGOs have been suggesting improvement of regional energy strategy, acknowledgment of public opinion, application of modern standards of environmental protection, and cancellation of the agreement on consensual use and distribution of hydro-power energy signed by B&H and Montenegro.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The project of HPP "Buk Bijela" construction was renewed and cancelled three times in the past. Both in 2004 and 2012 the project faced opposition by NGOs from Montenegro. In 2005 the project was stopped by the Parliament of Montenegro adopting the Declaration on River Tara proposed by NGOs and citizens, while in 2013 it was because of the lack of the agreement on a concession fee among the Government of the Republic of Srpska and the investor. Currently, the Government of RS is negotiating the concession for construction of the HPP with the “Hidroelektrane na Drini”, a company under the state-owned power utility.
Sources and Materials

The construction of the HPP and flooding the canyons of rivers Tara, Piva and Sutjeska would violate the directives of Natura 2000 system: the Bird Directive (79/409 EEC) on the protection of birds living in nature, and the Habitat Directive (92/43 EEC) on the protection of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora; the Paris Convention for the Protection of Natural Heritage from 1972 –that say that UNESCO should be informed first, before taking any action within the protected area, in this case UNESCO was informed by NGO; the Seville Conference from 1995 –providing the legal framework for the functioning of biosphere reserves.

Other relevant legislation:
UN Declaration on the Human Environment (1972)
Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972)
The World Charter on Nature (1982)
Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development (1992)
Natura 2000 system
The Seville Strategy for Biosphere Reserves (1995)
Paris Convention for the Protection of Natural Heritage (1972)


Analizira se isplativost HE Buk Bijela
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Energetski potencijal sliva Drine
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Ili Tara, ili para
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Riješen spor oko gradnje hidroelektrana Buk Bijela i Foča
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Isplativa samo HE Buk Bijela?
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Dam threatens Montenegro river
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Buk Bijela Hydro Power Plant
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Montenegro will not participate in the construction of the hydro power plant Buk Bijela
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Agreement reached on construction of hydroelectric power plant Buk Bijela on the Drina river – building starts in 2008
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RS: “Buk Bijela” biće prva od 11 planiranih HE
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Saopštenje za javnost povodom raskida ugovora o gradnji HE na Drini
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Crna Gora želi da sagleda sve aspekte izgradnje HE Buk Bijela i Foča
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Crna Gora neće dozvoliti gradnju HE na gornjoj Drini
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Crna Gora i zaštita Tare: RS planira hidroelektranu na Drini
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Stavovi Komisije za HE na Drini očekivani
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Komentari na Studije procjene uticaja na životnu sredinu za HE Buk Bijela i HE Foča
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Negotiations on HPP Buk Bijela concession still ongoing – Bosnia and Herzegovina, 30 April 2016
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Početak gradnje HE “Buk Bijela” najkasnije za godinu – umjesto Nijemaca gradi je domaća Elektroprivreda
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Foča (Bastasi):Stanovnici svih iseljenih mjesta sa područja općine Foča danas imaju pravo da podnesu zahtjeve da im se vrati nacionalizovana zemlja
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Bosnia's ERS, Hidroelektrane na Drini to get concession to build HPP Buk Bijela
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Uskoro koncesije za TE “Gacko 2” i HE “Buk Bijela”
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U toku pregovori za dodjelu koncesije za gradnju HE „Buk Bijela
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Media Links

Fočaci protiv gradnje hidrocentrala na Drini
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Za dvije godine prva hidroelektrana?
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Koncesija za izgradnju hidroelektrane Buk Bijela
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Other Documents

“I DON’T WANT A SWAMP, I WANT TARA ” 2004 - CAMPAIGN People signing petition in Podgorica, capital of Montenegro, as a part of “I don’t want a swamp, I want Tara” campaign against HPP Buk Bjela
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Press conference “I don´t want a swamp, I want Tara”. Press conference organised in Žabljak, Montenegro
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Meta Information
ContributorJovanka Spiric, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, vankajo(at)gmail.com
Last update20/12/2016