Kuusamo’s River Kuusinkijoki to be freed from hydropower – Bright future ahead for threatened brown trout
The Myllykoski hydropower plant will cease operating on Kuusamo’s River Kuusinkijoki, allowing threatened brown trout free access to extensive watercourse and lake areas. A binding letter of intent was signed in Helsinki on 4 March 2021. The power plant has been the only dam structure of the large catchment area. Koskienergia Koskivoima Oy will sell its power plant to the Kuusinkijoki kuntoon ry.
The power plant decommissioning project is supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s migratory fish programme NOUSU, which aims to improve the condition of migratory fish and threatened fish populations in several locations throughout Finland. The NOUSU programme implements the goal of Prime Minister Sanna Marini’s Government to restore migratory fish stocks and protect biodiversity, and continues the key project launched during the previous government term.
“Opening up watercourses to migratory fish will strengthen both fish populations and regional vitality. The River Kuusinkijoki is a true pearl of the NOUSU programme, supporting the restoration of the endangered lake trout population and promoting tourism in the Kuusamo region. The local association has supported the project with exemplary effectiveness, and thanks are also due to Koskienergia Koskivoima Oy for discontinuing operations at the Myllykoski power plant,” says Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä.
When power plant operations cease, water will be diverted back to the hitherto dry River Piilijoki, along which trout will be able to migrate from the main course of the River Kuusinkijoki all the way to the headwaters. The River Kuusinkijoki is one of Kuusamo’s three famous trout rivers, the other two being the River Kitkajoki and the River Oulankajoki. The three rivers merge on the Russian side of the border and descend to Lake Paanajärvi, from where the water route continues to Lake Pääjärvi, the extensive feeding habitat of the brown trout.
“Kuusamo is a nature town with fine rivers. The power plant, however, has prevented fish rising up the river, which has led to a decline in the trout population in recent years. This project will free trout spawning grounds along a distance of 50 kilometres, which will be of immense importance for the threatened brown trout. I would like to thank the town of Kuusamo, the NOUSU programme, Koskienergia Koskivoima Oy and everyone who has helped to promote this,” says Matti Aikio, Chairman of Kuusinkijoki kuntoon ry.
“Koskienergia has previously had its own projects to improve the living conditions of migratory fish on the River Kuusinkijoki, which for one reason or another did not advance. Kuusinkijoki kuntoon ry’s objective will also fulfil the goals of the previous projects, so we decided to close the Myllykoski power plant. We will continue our environmental projects at our other power plants,” says Hannu Ruotsalainen, CEO, Koskienergia Koskivoima Oy.
“The potential of the River Kuusinkijoki waterway area is enormous. The handover of the power plant will result in the freeing of the old river course and rehabilitation work, after which a diverse and abundant trout population can be restored in the upper reaches of the River Kuusinkijoki catchment area. In addition to the removal of the dam, restoring the trout population will also require, among other things, sustainable fishing arrangements and smooth border area waterway cooperation with Russia,” says Matti Vaittinen, Coordinator of the NOUSU programme.
The central government has committed to financing 50 per cent of the power plant acquisition, so final completion of the transaction requires that the local organisation collect half of the transaction amount from other sources during 2021. The fundraising work will be a major task, to which the town of Kuusamo, Ilkka Herlin and Miikka Kiprusoff have already committed. WWF, for its part, has pledged to co-finance the rehabilitation phase, which will start after the handover of the power plant.
Matti Vaittinen, Project Coordinator, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, tel. +358 295 162 106, matti.vaittinen(at)mmm.fi
Teppo Säkkinen, Special Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, tel. +358 50 516 2868, teppo.sakkinen(at)mmm.fi
Jarno Turunen, Fisheries Biologist, Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment / Lapland,
tel. +358 295 037 058, jarno.turunen(at)ely-centre.fi
Matti Aikio, Chairman, Kuusinkijoki Kuntoon ry, tel. +358 400 354 540
Hannu Ruotsalainen, Koskienergia Koskivoima Oy, tel. +358 40 708 2165, hannu.ruotsalainen(at)koskienergia.fi