WASHINGTON, D.C. — A small corner of paradise, called Hutovo Blato, is located in the southern part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. With its abundant vegetation, an immense blue lake set against a mountainous backdrop, and rich marshlands, Hutovo Blato attracts nature lovers as well as more than 240 species of migratory birds every year. It was declared a protected nature reserve in 1995.
Now, environmental groups say a planned power plant in the vicinity and other projects linked to it would destroy this lovely nature spot.
"The Hutovo Blato swamps will turn into peatland, and reeds. There'll be no more water, and it will become so damaged that it will no longer be of any environmental value. All the birds and other animals will emigrate and you might as well sow corn here," said Marinko Dalmatin, a Bosnian ornithologist.
The proposed hydroelectric network begun in the 1970s and will eventually include several hydroelectric power stations in Bosnia and in neighboring Croatia. To get these new power stations up and running, water must be diverted from Hutovo Blato. Radivoje Bratic, the director of a plant currently under construction, feels that compromises must be reached between development and conservation.
"We can't build a power plant without consequences, but the question is how serious are they? Our objective is to reduce these effects as much as we can. But I have to say that these negative effects can't be avoided altogether," said Bratic.
The environmental damage goes beyond Hutovo Blato. Fruit growers and farmers from the nearby Metkovic region, in Croatia, say their crops, already being damaged by salinization, are facing further risk.
"All our crops are suffering and the water that we have here is already toxic because it is too salty," said Mate Kaleb, a Croatian farmer.
The World Wildlife Fund has warned that Hutovo Blato is already under great pressure from the existing 10 hydropower plants in the watersheds of the Neretva and Trebišnjica rivers. Nonetheless, an additional seven are being planned.