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Modzelówka junction, Ruda. The Biebrza National Park is implementing a river renaturalization project

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The Biebrza National Park is implementing a project that aims to recreate the original river system in the Biebrza valley, which is intended to repair the effects of land improvement carried out since the mid-19th century. The ongoing works at the Modzelówka junction in Ruda (Podlaskie Voivodeship) will be completed in 2026. Thanks to them, the fire risk will be reduced. The project also aims to help local farmers struggling with the problem of dry meadows.

– The current stage of work will last until the end of February. We have to take a break for the bird protection season and come back here after half a year, says Adam Bernatowicz.

He is the project manager of the Biebrza National Park, which aims to renaturalize, i.e. recreate the original system of rivers in the so-called middle basin of the Biebrza valley.

Works on the Modzelówka water junctionBiebrza National Park

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Drainage works were carried out mainly after 1844

The first stage of the project was carried out in 2009-17 in the vicinity of the Woźnawiejska Canal, while work is currently underway at the Modzelówka water facilities node in Ruda in the Grajewo commune. The Rudzki Canal, the Kuwaski Canal and the so-called Dead Ełk, i.e. a dry section of the Ełk River.

These actions are intended to correct the mistakes from the times of tsarist land improvement, which led to significant changes in the hydrographic network.

“In the second half of the 19th century, this network was significantly changed as a result of hydrotechnical works carried out to drain these areas. These works were carried out mainly after 1844, when there was famine in the Kingdom of Poland caused by a wet summer and flooding of crops,” we read on the project website.

There were also meliorations from the times of the Polish People’s Republic

As a result, the tsarist administration carried out a number of melioration activities, which made the area largely dry and suitable for agricultural use.

– Melioration was also carried out during the Polish People’s Republic, in the 1960s and 1970s – notes Bernatowicz.

Two big fires

All these works led to the rapid outflow of surface water and a decline in the groundwater level. What’s new climate change and frequent droughts is very dangerous in the event of a fire.

Dead bed of the Ełk RiverBiebrza National Park

– Especially since we are talking about peat bogs. We had two big fires here. In 1992, i.e. a year before the establishment of the Biebrza National Park, and in 2020. Although this first fire covered a smaller area, it was much more disastrous. It was the so-called deep fire. The fire went several meters into the peat bogs and burned holes. It was very difficult to put it out, says our interlocutor.

In 2020, it was easier to control the fire

The second fire, as he says, was the so-called surface fire.

– The fire did not penetrate the peat. This happened thanks to the renaturalization from 2009-2017, when, among others, the Jegrznia River bed was cleaned and a weir and dams were built on the Woźnawiejski Canal – he notes.

Damming the water on the weir allowed most of the water flowing through the Woźnawiejska Canal to be directed to the Jegrznia River. The thresholds stopped the water in the canal, preventing excessive drying of the adjacent areas.

Modzelówka water junction before workBiebrza National Park

– A service road was also built along the canal, thanks to which the fire brigade could drive deep into the swamps – emphasizes our interlocutor.

He adds that in addition to fire issues, the implementation of the project also has a positive impact on the agricultural economy in the areas adjacent to the park.

Positive changes also for local farmers

– Before the start of the first stage in 2009, there were fears that the meadows would be flooded, making them unfit for use. However, this did not happen. The project is more about stabilizing groundwater rather than causing surface overflows. In the following years, farmers themselves asked us when we would continue the project, because they had problems with dry meadows, Bernatowicz notes.

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The ongoing second stage of the project envisages the reconstruction of the Modzelówka junction in such a way that it will be possible to introduce some water back into the previously dead Ełk river bed. The works are scheduled to be completed in 2026. The value of the project is over EUR 8.2 million. It is co-financed by LIFE funds from the European Commission, the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management in Warsaw and the Biebrza National Park.

Almost 60 thousand hectares of area

Biebrza National Park was created in 1993 and is the largest national park in Poland. It has almost 60 thousand. ha of area. It protects extensive and almost unchanged valley peat bogs with a unique diversity of plant, bird and other animal species and natural ecosystems.

“The Biebrza Valley is a very important place for nesting, feeding and resting for water and marsh birds,” we read on the project website.

Main photo source: Biebrza National Park

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