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Siarzewo dam, Poland


In the government's document ‘Assumptions for the development plans of inland waterways in Poland for 2016-2020 with an outlook until 2030’, a plan was announced for a significant improvement in navigation conditions on the Vistula River waterway - connecting Gdańsk with Warsaw and forming part of the international E-40 waterway. It has been estimated that the costs of this development will amount to PLN 31.5 billion [1]. Furthermore, the ‘European Agreement on the Main Inland Waterways of International Importance’ – signed by the President of Poland in January 2017 – obliges to take steps to achieve at least IV international navigability class on the Vistula.

The first step in the implementation of the Vistula waterway is the construction of a new dam. Therefore, already in December 2017, the interministerial 'Agreement on the implementation of the investment in the construction of the Siarzewo dam' was signed [2]. In the same month, the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection (RDOŚ) in Bydgoszcz issued a positive decision on the environmental conditions for the implementation of the dam project prepared by the state-owned company Energa. The decision was made immediately enforceable, as the documentation assessed the investment in the category of activities for the benefit of significant social interest. The point is that, according to the construction of the new barrage, the main goal is to ensure the lasting safety of the neighboring Włocławek dam, which has been operating since 1970. The new utility is to dam up the waters to an elevation of 46.0 m above sea level. The building in Włocławek, which is the only implementation of the great communist project 'Cascade of the Lower Vistula', operates in conditions of river bed erosion and exceeding the permissible water levels above the dam, which in extreme situations may result in a catastrophe. In the official discourse, the following were considered side effects of the dam investment in Siarzewo: ensuring the transport function, stopping the progressive deep erosion below the Włocławek dam, increasing flood safety in the Włocławsko-Ciechocińska valley, reducing the risk of ice blockages, preventing the steppe-formation of Kujawy region and using the energy potential of the river (there will be a power station) [3].

The main investor – the State Water Holding Polish Waters – argues that it will have minimal impact on displacements and on land ownership. Only 20 plots of land have been identified in three communes where the existing buildings collide with the planned location of the investment and its facilities [4].

The planned location of the investment is the village of Siarzewo (Vistula: rkm 706-707). The reach of the backwater will extend upstream, to the Włocławek dam (Vistula: rkm 674-675). The new dam will affect a large part of the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, i.e. the following counties: Toruń, Aleksandrów, Lipno, Włocławek and Włocławek (a city with county rights). The investment zone will include three Natura 2000 areas: ‘Włocławska Dolina Wisły’ (PLH 040039), ‘Nieszawska Dolina Wisły’ (PLH 040012) and ‘Dolina Dolnej Wisły’ (PLB 040003). Moreover, it is located within the Protected Landscape Area of ​​the Ciechocin Lowlands and the ‘Zielona Kępa’ ecological site [5].

In the decision of the RDOŚ, it was determined that the introduction of such a large hydrotechnical construction into the environment would have a significant negative impact on nature. Willow, poplar, alder and ash riparian forests will be destroyed as a result of their logging and dehumidification. It was assumed that there will also be stats in oxbow lakes and natural eutrophic water reservoirs. It was also found that the habitats of 7 species of protected birds (the little tern, the common tern, the little ringed plover, the common sandpiper, the European herring gull, the common gull and the kingfisher) are impossible to save. The population of certain species of fish is also threatened: Amur bitterling, spined loach, European river lamprey and Atlantic salmon. Therefore, the RDOŚ decision assured that the implementation of the investment would be accompanied by environmental compensation [6]. Riparian forests on an area of ​​over 500 ha, oxbow lakes (40 ha) and sandy inland islands (70 ha) are to be restored. This document also specifies mitigation measures, including the construction of the bypass bed of the barrage with a river character similar to the natural one, ensuring the possibility of migratory fish migration. The construction of fish passes for ichthyofauna was also planned and the location of construction back-up and access roads in the areas of water intake protection zones was forbidden. As part of the restocking, 250,000 Atlantic salmon smolt and 10,000 individuals of sea trout will be released into the river annually [7].

Between 11 and 30 January 2018, eight environmental organizations and user of the fishing circuit lodged appeals against the decision of the RDOŚ. The allegations concerned the assessment of the impact of the investment on the possibility of preserving natural habitats and species constituting the objects of protection of Natura 2000 areas. It was argued that the dam would lead to the destruction of all spawning grounds in the reservoir cap, while cutting off from the spawning grounds located in the upper reaches of the Vistula River, thus preventing its reproduction. It was also alleged that the scope of the provided compensation does not meet the natural needs, and in some places its effectiveness is questionable or inadequate to the subject of protection for which the compensation was provided for. They also pointed to errors and inaccuracies in the analysis of variants and alternatives. The appellants also raised objections relating to the procedural sphere of the proceedings. For example, the documentation completely ignores the fact that cemeteries will be located in the area of rising groundwater levels. There was also no assessment of the impact on these cemeteries, and no remedial measures were indicated [5].

Many environmental defenders believe that the Siarzewo dam does not have to support the Włocławek dam, which in 2013-2015 was modernized for PLN 115 million. They indicate that there is no risk of catastrophe there. They also think that the construction of another partition on the Vistula River may increase the risk of winter jam floods, which will occur in two places at once – on the Włocławek and Siarzewo reservoirs. Moreover, they are covinced that the proposed dam will increase the risk of drought, because below the resulting reservoir, the erosive force of the water will wash out the material from the bottom, lowering its level. This will lead to a decrease in the water level in the river and, consequently, in the groundwater, which will cause droughts locally. The Siarzewo reservoir will also have no impact on the irrigation of the fields. All because of its location: the fields lie on an escarpment, the reservoir – in the valley. Investment opponents also claim that the dam is not a response to the country's energy needs. The investment costs of installing the planned turbines are at least 6 times higher than investments in solar or wind energy [8] [9] [10] [11].

The new dam and the associated hydroelectric power plant will also contribute to increasing greenhouse gas emissions - organic matter deposited on the bottom as a result of decomposition in anaerobic conditions will emit, among others, methane. The amount of these gases released per unit of generated energy may be up to 4 times higher in the case of hydropower plants (dam reservoirs) than in the case of conventional coal-fired power generation [12] [13].

The project documentation lacks an analysis of the problem that may turn out to be of key importance for the inhabitants of the area in the immediate vicinity of the planned investment, i.e. mass emergence of bloodworms (Chironomidae). Today, they are a nuisance for the inhabitants of the Włocławek Reservoir, making investments and places attractive to tourists (e.g. summer houses and marinas) useless [20].

Numerous ecological organizations stood up to fight the main investor. In 2018, the collective ‘River Sisters’ was invented as a protest to publicize the demands of the Save the Rivers Coalition (operating since 2017). This women’s group envolved from the collective 'Polish Mothers on the felling', founded a year earlier, against the controversial ‘Szyszko’ Act. The artistic message was clear: to save the Vistula, which is in danger of being blocked by a great dam in Siarzewo, her sisters and other rivers come. The women gave the rivers a voice and emphasized their subjectivity, recalling their names. To become the ‘River Sisters’, you just need to wear blue and hold a sign like a road sign with the name of your river in your hands. In addition, women sew and present bathing suits with a "pro-river" message embroidered on them, thanks to which they gained popularity in the media. The ‘River Sisters' are supported by 'Brothers Torrents' [14] [15] [16]. 

On March 15, 2021, representatives of these two groups – as well as other organizations from the Save the Rivers Coalition – protested at the headquarters of the Ministry of Infrastructure in Warsaw. Several dozen people manifested in response to the announcement of a tender for the construction of the Siarzewo dam [8]. On April 17, 2021, near the river port in Nieszawa, there was a protest of swimmers from all over Poland.

Not all scientists are against dam construction. Moreover, this project is supported by some local government officials, entrepreneurs, various institutions and private persons. During the lobbying campaign conducted, among others, by in the diocese of Włocławek, the activists of the Union of Kujawy Land Communes gathered over 100,000 endorsement signatures [17]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Siarzewo dam, Poland
State or province:Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship (Kujawy-Pomerania Province)
Location of conflict:Raciążek Commune
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The scope of the planned investment will include the Siarzewo dam with the lower site of the barrage up to km 712 + 000 and accompanying facilities [18]. Projects will concern the following objects and issues [3]:

1. Weir with Jambor's threshold, closures, gloomy and escape basin;

2. Hydroelectric power plant with a capacity of approximately 80 MW;

3. A twin shipping lock with avanports adapted to the Va waterway class;

4. Technical fish pass (trough for runaway fish, pipe for runaway eels, fish pass for sturgeon);

5. Technical pass in the division pillar between the power plant and the weir (trough for runaway fish, conduit for run-off eels, pass for salmonids);

6. A natural pass - a bypass bed (an artificially shaped river with a course imitating natural meanders together with backwaters, providing a migration corridor for fish and other aquatic organisms);

7. Side dams at the barrage: Siarzewo and Nowogródek;

8. Footbridge for pedestrians and cyclists;

9. Technical infrastructure of the barrage area (auxiliary facilities and buildings, access roads to the reservoir facilities, networks, facility connections);

10. Development of the area of ​​the step;

11. The canopy of the reservoir (length 31.53 km, area 30 km2, maximum depth 10 m) with the fairway (33,1 km);

12. Natural compensation (16 islands: 15 islands in the reservoir, one island on the lower water side);

13. Side dams: Nieszawa, Bobrowniki and Kawka;

14. Flood embankments: God's help embankment (1150 m), Korabniki embankment (7200 m) and Zawiśle-Szpetal embankment (4700 m);

15. Pumping stations draining the cave with equalizing tanks and power supply to the pumping station.

Works related to forming the canopy of the reservoir will consist of carrying out dredging works, forming embankments and overfalls for the protection of oxbow lakes, bank protection - protection against abrasion, tree cutting. Within the reservoir's canopy, due to the designed Va-class waterway, a local bottom correction is planned related to the shape of the kinet.

Works are scheduled to start at the turn of 2023 and 2024, and the dam will be completed in 2029.

Project area:10,000 ha
Level of Investment:1,388,722,000 USD
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:unknown
Start of the conflict:11/01/2018
Company names or state enterprises:Państwowe Gospodarstwo Wodne Wody Polskie (State Water Holding Polish Waters) from Poland - investor
Grupa Kapitałowa Energa (Energa SA) from Poland - project creator / advisor
Relevant government actors:- Ministerstwo Klimatu i Środowiska (Ministry of Climate and Environment)
- Ministerstwo Infrastruktury (Ministry of Infrastructure)
- Regionalna Dyrekcja Ochrony Środowiska w Bydgoszczy (Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection in Bydgoszcz)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- Koalicja Ratujmy Rzeki (Save the Rivers Coalition)
- Siostry Rzeki (River Sisters)
- Bracia Potoki (Brothers Torrents)
- WWF Polska (WWF Poland)
- Stowarzyszenie Ekologiczno-Kulturalne Klub Gaja
- Towarzystwo Ochrony Przyrody,
- Fundacja Greenmind (Greenmind Foundation)
- Towarzystwo na Rzecz Ziemi (Foundation for the Land)
- Ogólnopolskie Towarzystwo Ochrony Ptaków (Polish Society for the Protection of Birds - OTOP)
- Towarzystwo Przyrodnicze Alauda
- Klub Przyrodników (Naturalists Club)
- Salar Sp.zo.o. (user of the fishing circuit)
- Partia Zieloni (The Greens)
- Polska 2050 Szymona Hołowni (Szymon Hołownia's Poland 2050)
- WSCS (World Sturgeon Conservation Society)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement
Other socio-economic impacts- high costs of environmental compensation (e.g. restocking)
- wasted potential for the development of local tourism due to the mass appearance of bloodworms after the creation of the water reservoir


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Strengthening of participation
Project temporarily suspended
Proposal and development of alternatives:WWF Poland and the Save the Rivers Coalition argue that the solution to the problems of the Włocławek barrage is not the construction of Siarzewo dam, but the dismantling of the existing one and the renaturalization of this section of the Vistula. Such a move would in turn require the drainage of the area now occupied by the flood and the disposal of harmful sediments.
In addition, they note that the same amount of renewable energy that the hydropower plant on the dam in Siarewo would be produced in this region of Poland with alternative, less harmful to the environment and much cheaper methods: by combining investments in solar, wind and biogas plants. Therefore, the construction of another dam on the Vistula is not necessary, neither because of the need to significantly increase the production of renewable energy in Poland, nor for energy security [19].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:On August 18, 2021, at the request of 9 environmental organizations submitted 3 years earlier, the Minister of Climate and Environment completely revoked the environmental decision to build a dam in Siarzewo, which was issued in December 2017 by the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection in Bydgoszcz, and submitted it for re-examination. The justification states that the RDOŚ decision didn't exhaust the environmental assessment, and that it was issued in violation of the procedure for obtaining opinions from other authorities and public participation. It was noted that the construction of a new barrage is not justified by the issues of securing the national power grid, health and life of citizens or safety, but by the safety of the hydrotechnical facility located in Włocławek.

On September 6, 2021, the State Water Holding Polish Waters filed an objection to the Provincial Administrative Court in Warsaw against this decision.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[1] UCHWAŁA Nr 79 RADY MINISTRÓW z dnia 14 czerwca 2016 r. w sprawie przyjęcia „Założeń do planów rozwoju śródlądowych dróg wodnych w Polsce na lata 2016–2020 z perspektywą do roku 2030” (RESOLUTION No. 79 of the COUNCIL OF MINISTERS of June 14, 2016 on the adoption of 'Assumptions for the development plans of inland waterways in Poland for the years 2016-2020 with a perspective until 2030')



[5] Decyzja Ministra Klimatu i Środowiska z dn. 12 sierpnia 2021 roku DIŚ-III.61.1.2021.16. (Decision of the Minister of Climate and Environment of August 12, 2021 DIŚ-III. 61.1.2021.16.)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries


[9] WWF Poland (2012). Ocena wpływu zbiornika Włocławek oraz planowanego stopnia i zbiornika w Siarzewie na warunki przepuszczania wielkich wód na podstawie powodzi z maja 2010 (Assessment of the impact of the Włocławek reservoir and the planned barrage and reservoir in Siarzewo on the conditions for passing large waters on the basis of the May 2010 flood). Warsaw.


[10] WWF Poland (2001). Studium kompleksowego rozwiązania problemów stopnia i zbiornika Włocławek. Prognoza skutków społeczno-ekonomicznych i środowiskowych (A study of a comprehensive solution to the problems of the Włocławek reservoir and dam. Forecast of socio-economic and environmental effects). Warsaw.

[13] L. Gibson, E.N. Wilman, W.F. Laurance (2017). How Green is ‘Green’ Energy? Trends in Ecology & Evolution, vol. 32, issue 12, pp. 922-935

[4] P. Cierpucha (2021, March 25). Państwowe Gospodarstwo Wodne Wody Polskie. Siarzewo – innowacyjny stopień wodny (Siarzewo - an innovative water step)

[2] Ł. Pieroń (2019). Prace nad Programem Rozwoju Drogi Wodnej Rzeki Wisły (Works on the Vistula River Waterway Development Program)

[7] ŚwiatOZE (2021, August 23). Decyzja o budowie zapory w Siarzewie uchylona (The decision to build a dam in Siarwo has been annulled)

[8] K. Kojnar (2021, August 19). Minister klimatu uchylił decyzję dla zapory w Siarzewie. Czy to koniec „monstrum zagrażającego Wiśle”? (The Minister of Climate has revoked the decision for the dam in Siarzewo. Is this the end of the "monster threatening the Vistula"?)

[12] R. Jurszo (2021, March 17). 4,5 mld zł na „socrealistyczne monstrum zagrażające Wiśle”. Rząd chce zapory w Siarzewie (PLN 4.5 billion for the "socialist realist monster threatening the Vistula". The government wants a dam in Siarzewo).

[11] GAZETAPRAWNA (2021, April 9). Jak ugryźć kilka miliardów, czyli rzecz o budowie zapory w Sierzawie (How to bite a few billion, or about building a dam in Siarzewo).,jak-ugryzc-kilka-miliardow-czyli-rzecz-o-budowie-zapory-w-sierzawie-opinia.html

[14] R. Müller (b.d.). Responsible Art. River Sisters.

[17] Aleksandrów Kujawski NASZEMIASTO (2018, April 11). Zebrali 102 327 podpisów popierających budowę zapory w Siarzewie (They collected 102,327 signatures supporting the construction of the dam in Siarzewo)

[20] A.j Mikulski, K. Bącela-Spychalska, M. Skóra (2018, January 8). NAUKA DLA PRZYRODY. Projekt budowy stopnia na Wiśle poniżej Włocławka (A project to build a barrage on the Vistula River below Włocławek)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[15] 'River Sisters' Facebook account. (2019, March 14).

[16] 'River Sisters' YouTube account. (2021, May 12)

[18] 'Polish Water National Water Management' YouTube account. (2020, November 24)

Meta information

Contributor:Maciej Kałaska, [email protected] Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies, University of Warsaw
Last update17/09/2021



International Day Against Dams / Cracow, March 14, 2019

River Sisters with a banner 'Not for the dam in Siarzewo' Source: River Sisters

Swimwear show in Cracow

Agata Bargiel as the Vistula river Photo: Bogdan Krezel / Source: River Sisters

Planned location of the Siarzewo dam (Vistula river: rkm 706-707)

Author: Mateuszgdynia, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

localization sketch of the Siarzewo dam


Barrier dam in Wrocławek

The main goal of construction of the Siarzewo dam is to ensure the lasting safety of the neighboring Włocławek dam Author: trebor72, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons