People in Panagyurishte - a town of 16,564 inhabitants in Central Bulgaria - have been waiting for a reliable water supply into their homes for years. As construction of the Luda Yana dam began in the fall of 2016, it looked like they would finally get their wish.
The dam, one of three being completed under the World Bank-supported Municipal Infrastructure Development Project, promises to provide a reliable source of water to the residents of the town – a key priority spelled out by the government's Strategy for Water Supply and Sewerage Management and Development plan.
As it turns out, the residents of Panagyurishte were not the only ones whose lives were about to change as a result of this construction.
In the spring of 2018, an unexpected twist in project implementation occurred when it was discovered that the project site was also home to a number of European ground squirrels – an animal listed as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its Red List of Threatened Species.
The European ground squirrel (known also as a European souslik) is a colonial animal that is known to dig extensive tunnel systems. These cute animals are found in southern Ukraine, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and north - as far as Poland – where it was reintroduced in 2005 after going extinct.
Following the World Bank’s environmental safeguards, the Bulgarian Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works - the implementing agency for the project - undertook a mission to prove that every life matters. A special team of scientists from the Bulgarian academy of science was hired to figure out how to simultaneously provide Panagyurishte with water without harming the endangered European ground squirrels.
“Involuntary relocation” soon became the answer and from May through July, the scientists worked on a unique resettlement plan.