Diverting the flow of the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum to East Iceland would affect the river and its surroundings all the way to the mouth of the river. The series of waterfalls in the river, including Dettifoss waterfall, would disappear in its present form. Construction would affect the landscape from Mt. Herđubreiđ all the way east to Egilsstađir and north to the coast at Öxarfjörđur fjord. The area’s landscape, natural expanses, geological features and wildlife are all considered invaluable.
Arnardalur Power Plant
River Jökulsá á Fjöllum
- Arnardalur Power Plant
River Jökulsá á Fjöllum
Two power proposals in the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum are currently under consideration. They are the Arnardalur Power Plant and the Helmingur Power Plant.
The river Jökulsá á Fjöllum is the longest as well as the greatest in waterflow of the rivers that run northward from the Vatnajökull ice cap. The area is noted for the great number of active volcanic systems found there, and is considered unique in the Iceland Highlands. The river runs through the Vatnajökull National Park, Jökulsárgljúfur canyon by the Askja volcano, the Herđubreiđ Nature Reserve, Hvannalindir springs, and wetlands at Öxarfjörđur, Kverkfjöll and the Ódáđahraun lava field.
The area is of great natural beauty. The river has carved out a layered canyon during successive glacial floodings, wide at the top, but growing ever narrower towards the bottom, with the river running through the narrowest, bottommost canyon. The floodings in the river weathered and wore down everything in their path, including a series of craters that have been transformed into the Hljóđaklettar cliffs, forming fantastical images of castles, lions and trolls.
The river‘s drainage basin remains almost untouched. The river follows its natural course, albeit with seasonal changes in waterflow, and carries sediment out to sea. Sandbanks erected at Kelduhverfi to prevent coastal erosion are the most significant human structures in the area. Two out of three major river systems on Earth have already been dammed, and their flow patterns disrupted. Outside of Iceland, only three large rivers in Europe remain completely undisturbed. Iceland can almost be said to be the only country in Europe where large or relatively large river systems remain undisturbed.
Icelandic poet and entrepreneur Einar Benediktsson tried to sell Dettifoss waterfall to foreign tycoons at the turn of the 19th century, but he greatly overestimated the height of the waterfall. There have since been several proposals for the harnessing of Jökulsá á Fjöllum, mostly envisaging the diversion of the river‘s flow eastward. This includes recent proposals for the Arnardalur and Helmingur Power Plants, but they have been classified as protected according to the Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources.
Falcons nest widely in the area around the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. The birdlife of Arnardalur and Möđrudalur is varied and plentiful, with nine species of ducks and several falcon nesting sites. Pink-footed geese are common, with 5% of the entire Iceland-Greenlandic population nesting in the area.
The area is listed 43rd on the list of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Europe.
The area‘s wetlands are also varied and make it onto the list of important wetland areas in Europe.
The road to the Kverkfjöll mountains runs from Möđrudalur valley to the mouth of Arnardalur valley far to the south. Arnardalur valley is verdant with vegetation, and there are vestiges of human habitation to be found there, as of yet unexplored, that may date to the first age of Icelandic settlement.
The river Jökulsá á Fjöllum flows through important natural areas, amongst them the Vatnajökull National Park, Jökulsárgljúfur canyon by the Askja volcano, the Herđubreiđ Nature Reserve, Hvannalindir springs, and the wetlands at Öxarfjörđur and Kverkfjöll.
The proposal for Arnardalur Power Plant is classified as protected, but would have entailed the submerging of the valley and the creation of several reservoirs, including one reaching from Arnardalsalda east to Grjót, and another at the confluence of the river Hölkná. Dettifoss waterfall would have been altered, but the waterfall is part of the Vatnajökull National Park. The flooding of Arnardalur valley would furthermore destroy the nesting grounds of pink-footed geese, which numbered 740 couples or 2% of the entire population in 2002.