Enrica Calò

Giov & Go – Towards a free-flowing Giovenco

Prepping to remove five dams in the Apennine area – Italy’s first-ever weir removal project


The Giovenco River is a 44 km Apennine watercourse that originates in an area rich in springs, crosses the villages of Bisegna, Ortona dei Marsi and Pescina, enters the Fucino collector channel called “Immissario Torlonia”, and flows into the Liri River. The Giovenco River receives numerous seasonal and perennial spring contributions captured for drinking, industrial use and feeding the aqueduct. In the terminal part of the mountain course, near the town of Pescina, the river’s flow is blocked by a barrier serving to store water for irrigation; further downstream, the Giovenco River turns into a heavily modified water body, regulated and cemented, which flows into the Fucino drainage channel.

In 2000, the enlargement of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park included the Giovenco valley. The rivers position, stretching towards the Fucino plain, takes on a leading role in terms of nature conservation, representing the natural corridor that connects the vast area of the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park to the south-east and the Sirente-Velino massifs, within the Sirente Velino Regional Park, to the west.

As mentioned, in its mountainous portion, the watercourse is still largely natural and with continuous riparian strips; however, 15 small dams exist in just 25 km of extension along the valley; some of these barriers are still in use, such as those serving the aqueduct and the irrigation plant, some are unused, and others have probably lost their hydraulic function, and they all disrupt river continuity.

Barrier on the Giovenco River
Mario Cipollone

Project context and opportunity

The project finances the preparatory activities for removing five reinforced concrete small dams in the upper course of the Giovenco River, in the municipal territory of Bisegna and the protected area of ​​the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park. These activities consist of feasibility studies to define the ecological-environmental, legal-administrative, and socio-economic framework for the development of the removal project, the preparation of the technical design documents, and the actions to support the local community’s awareness towards river problems and explore the potential for removal.

Given the typical intrinsic fragility of the Apennine’s small watercourses in their upper portion, the project is intended to demonstrate how removing the selected dams and the consequent restoration of river processes can maximize the ecological impacts at the basin scale.

It is expected that the removal project will achieve several outcomes and result in an original and exclusive initiative as follows:

  • The reconstitution of a natural longitudinal profile of the riverbed as a prerequisite condition to reactivate hydrodynamic, morphological, and ecological processes now blocked by the dam.
  • The elimination of a landscape detractor in a valley with a high environmental value and included in the perimeter of one of the oldest national parks in Italy.
  • The high demonstration potential and the strong communicative and educational impact that the dam removal would assume as a “pilot project” given that the Giovenco River is notoriously also frequented by vertebrate terrestrial fauna, including the Marsican brown bear.
  • The convergence between the benefits of conserving biodiversity and the expectations of sustainable development in a valley where human activities have been kept for centuries in balance with nature.
  • The small mountain Municipality of Bisegna could have a positive socio-economic impact from the removal project. The project could give a significant boost to the action of the municipal administration, which is committed, as well as many others in the central Apennines, in activities aimed at revitalizing its territory through the consolidation of eco-tourism, promotion of initiatives related to outdoor activities and sport, sustainable management of natural resources and development of organic agriculture/livestock.


Yellow bellied toad.
Bruno D'Amicis

Project aims

This project will increase the technical and practical know-how of the Italian bureaucratical workflow related to dam removal, establish a positive and collaborative network with local authorities to make this workflow easier and quicker for future dam removals, and provide the kick off for Rewilding Europe to start promoting activities with a sensational launch, as it would be the first weir removed in Italy.

The Giovenco River can be a case study that will show how a river can be protected by the communities, paving the road for future projects on wildlife restoration of white-clawed crayfish and Mediterranean trout and where the return of the otter is expected, after 50 years of extinction, for the next seasons.

Removing these dams would be the first of its kind in the Apennine area. It would offer a model that can be replicated in other dam removal projects within the same valley or similar catchment basins. The experience gained through this project would represent a good practice to stimulate similar initiatives. The type of implemented measures could make projects more easily eligible to access European structural funds, thus positively influencing the policy aiming at “freeing rivers”, in line with the commitment outlined by the European Union Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 to restore at least 25,000 km of free-flowing rivers.


Endemic white-clawed crayfish from the Central Apennines.
Bruno D'Amicis

Communities’ involvement

During summer 2023, Rewilding Apennines hosted two events on Giovenco River, involving guided tours of a portion of the river and talks about its ecology and cultural value. The project has also been publicly presented to the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park and the representatives of Ortona dei Marsi and Bisegna municipalities, and it received their approval.

In addition to that, Rewilding Apennines hosted a three-day seminar (“Rewilding in Italy“, from 3 to 5 Novembre 2023) during which experts tackled the topic of river restoration in terms of safety, ecology and species reintroduction.

A webinar titled “Rivers free to flow” about river restoration on July 20th was organized by Rewilding Apennines and held by ichthyologist Amilcare D’Orsi and environmental engineer Giandomenico Mercuri.

Also, Rewilding Apennines met local administrations and associations to inform citizens about the initiative and reassure people about the safety and the ecological value of the initiative. Local school “Liceo Scientifico Vitruvio Pollione” is also involved in the communication activities: one frontal lesson about river ecology and the effects of barrier removal and river restoration, and one practical activity on the field sampling the river for macroinvertebrates biodiversity.