Traffic could damage protected lake

iceland mountAccording to local environmentalists, the largest lake in Iceland is under threat. Reports by IPS indicate that the construction of a new road in the area will adversely affect the ecology of Lake Thingvallavatn.

The lake is located in Thingvellir National Park, a park recognized by UNESCO for its cultural significance. The park includes the site of what is considered the first parliament in the world, which was founded in the year 930 AD.

The lake and the surrounding area are geologically important because it is one of the rare places in the world where people can see tectonic plates. The Great Rift Valley in East Africa is the only other place where such an occurrence is so easily observable.

In the summer, Thingvellir is a popular place for locals and it is located just an hour from the capital by car. In the winter, the roads can become impassable but nevertheless, the number of private summerhouses in the area is growing.

An all-weather road was proposed in 2001 for the benefit of school children rather than for tourists. The road would cut the journey that children make from Blaskogabyggd to Laugarvatn by 45 to 80 kilometres and allow vehicles to travel 20 km/h hour faster.

“The first road we proposed went through the park itself but was abandoned when the environmental impact assessment was thrown out after an appeal. So we came up with a number of other proposals,” says Erna Hreinsdottir from the Icelandic Road Administration.

“The new road, which we are calling Lyngdalsheidarvegur, avoids the national park and is also better from our point of view as it is straighter and has less steep hills. The current road has slopes of up to 20 percent while we prefer roads to have slopes no more than 6 percent for safety reasons. There are four times more accidents on the existing road than on other comparable roads, while the new road lies 100 metres lower than the old one, leading to better road conditions in mid-winter.”

According to local biologists, however, the increased traffic will lead to higher levels of nitrogen pollution going into the lake which is likely to turn its crystal clear waters a foggy green colour.

Gisli Mar Gislason is one of 27 freshwater biologists from the Nordic countries who expressed their concerns recently to UNESCO. “The new road will lie by the spawning area of Arctic charr,” Gislason told IPS. “The road could lead to increased pollution, in the form of nitrogen dioxide and nitrates, which would end up in the lake. Because of this, the main road should lie outside of the catchment area.”

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