Nouria Newman Makes a Case for Saving Italy’s Sorba

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(By Nouria Newman, extreme kayaker, 2013-Vice-World Cup Slalom Champion/Team World Champion 2014; Read bio HERE)

If you are not from the Old Continent, chances are you’re unfamiliar with the Sorba River. But if you are passionate about whitewater kayaking you’ve most likely heard about Val Sesia or have seen photos of the Gronda drops in the village of Rassa, or the Devil’s slide.

For Class IV/V paddlers, the Sorba and Gronda are hard to beat. There are not many places where you can paddle some technical drops through a picturesque alpine village, find some clean bedrock slides, or paddle through a narrow gorge surrounded by one of the greenest landscape of the Alps.

Sorba Italy
Save the Sorba…as picturesque of a place to paddle as you’ll ever find…(Photos courtesy Valeria Narancio ).

As if all this wasn’t enough, the Devil’s slide tops it off. 

With such quality whitewater, it’s no surprise the region has played such a big role in the development of extreme kayaking. In the 2000s the upper section hosted some of Europe’s most significant whitewater races. The TEVA extreme outdoor games put together by Italian whitewater legend Franscesco Salvato and Carla Decker brought some of the biggest names of kayaking to the small village of Rassa, including Tao Berman, Steve Fisher, Tommy Hilleke, Pat Keller, Corran Addison, Shannon Carroll and more.

Sorba Italy
While it’s not for everyone, the Devil’s Slide is one of Europe’s extreme classics (Photo courtesy Dom Daher)

To this day I don’t think any other European kayaking events have managed to attract that many elite North American boaters — maybe not even the adidas Sickline World Championships.

The Sorba also helped define and push the limits of what was runnable in a kayak. In 1992 Shaun Baker claimed the first descent of the infamous Devil’s Slide, a rapid which remains a solid stout run these days.

(Watch descent here:

Save the Sorba

Until now the Sorba river did a lot for kayaking and it’s now time for kayaking community to give back to this river. 
The Rassa hydro project will divert the Upper Sorba into 1,135-meter-long pipelines. In the scheme of things loosing a kilometer of paddling playground isn’t such a big deal. Of course we selfishly hope that we will be able to enjoy that beautiful section of whitewater in the future, but that’s not all we are fighting for.

The Sorba small dam would have a big impact on the environment. It will limit sediment transport, alter water temperatures, affect fish migrations, and subsequently jeopardize the local ecosystem. Right now the unspoiled waters of the Sorba constitute the habitat of several fish species, including the European Bullhea, which  is particularly sensitive to pollution. The pipeline construction also implies destroying the river right bank, and to do so the plan is use chemical injections instead of explosives because the village of Rassa is too close.

This hydro project will not only affect the ecosystem but also the cultural heritage of Rassa. It will be hard, even for the best architects in the world, to camouflage an entire power station and make it blend in with the typical housing structures of the old alpine village.

And even if they did they couldn’t cover up the entire steel pipeline or the constant noise generated by the power station (100db), which will overpower the 60db of both Sorba and Gronda tributaries put together.

Sorba Italy
Slide in if you will…but sign the petition first! (Photo courtesy Dom Daher)

The relatively small amount of energy generated by the power station (226kW) is simply not worth it. Profits would not even provide a full payback to the initial public investment (2 millions Euros). And if this project were to be approved, other small municipalities might be tempted to carry their own hydro projects.

As kayakers, river enthusiasts and nature lovers we can only support our Italian friends who are doing everything they can to save the Sorba.

Please take a minute to sign the petition HERE:

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