A teenage activist is opposing a project first proposed before he was even born. META investigates the case of the Yzeron dams.

Rivers are at the heart of many cities. In Francheville, a French city close to Lyon, a dam construction project has been dividing the population for more than 20 years. Local people and authorities are discussing the future of the project and the impact it would have on the environment.

Cities near the Yzeron river have been subject to floods for years now. The river tends to regularly overflow, endangering the population and infrastructure.

Authorities have proposed the construction of a number of dams to control the floods.

The dam in Francheville would be up to 22.5 metres high and change the surrounding landscape forever.

The Yzeron river project includes two dams on the outskirts of Lyon, France.

Some citizens oppose the project because of its impact on the environment. Among them, is Côme Tong-Cuong, a young activist:

Côme Tong-Cuong

“I first went to a public meeting in March 2016. There, I realised that the project could be a danger to the climate. I was the only young person attending this meeting so I felt the need to get involved to defend the interests of my generation.”

Tong-Cuong describes the area that would be ruined by the project as a peaceful place, at the heart of a forest. It’s close to his home and a popular spot for family walks.

Earlier this year he created Génération Yzeron, which is run by young people but open to anyone opposed to the project.

“Our objective is to preserve the Yzeron valley, which is the green lung of the city of Lyon.”

The Génération Yzeron group was formed by young people to oppose the Francheville dam.

One of the group’s core aims is to get local authorities to conduct a new evaluation of the project, taking into account the worsening climate situation.

Tong-Cuong hopes to inform local people about the project and and its consequences for the environment:

“We realised that most people don’t know about it. Our objective is to mobilise the greatest number of people possible.”

City planners want to build the dams because development failed to take account of the risks of flooding and urbanisation has changed the natural path of the Yzeron river.

A necessary evil?

An estimated 4,500 dams of varying sizes have so far been removed in Europe. Just last year the French government announced the largest dam removal in Europe to date.

But while Tong-Cuong’s objection is clear, not all environmentalists are opposed to the project.

EEB member France Nature Environment (FNE) explained that while they were usually opposed to dam projects because of their impact on the natural world, the Yzeron dams were necessary because the risks from flooding for the population was a serious issue in the region.

A spokesperson for FNE told META:

“Sometimes dams can be the solution chosen to protect populations, as is the case here. The most important thing is that there is consultation before a final decision is made and that soft solutions are considered along the way.”

In this case FNE has worked closely with the consultancy in charge of the development plan and of the evaluation study. The company took the environmental group’s advice to limit the impact of the project on the environment.

FNE is very involved in water protection project and they published a detailed report about dams and their consequences on the environment recently.

A dam vote winner?

But the story doesn’t end here.

The mayor of Francheville is a well-known opponent of the project. Michel Rantonnet argues that his town wouldn’t be able to sustain the cost of the dam and agrees with Tong-Cuong that it will damage the natural space.

A public consultation on the project will start in 2020. Tong-Cuong hopes to be old enough to vote before the project is ever approved.

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