WILCZYN, Poland (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In early summer, the Wielkopolska region in western Poland looks like a scene from “The Hobbit” with intense green fields and lakes surrounded by dense forest and pretty cottages.
But there is growing disquiet in this rural idyll with more and more summer houses up for sale and farmers battling arid land and crop losses amid escalating protests about the impact of lignite coal mining in the area.
Residents ranging from fishermen and farmers to mayors and small business owners say water in the region’s lake system is disappearing, drying out farmland and jeopardizing the region’s economic base in agriculture and, more recently, tourism.
Drought and climate change, however, are feared to not be the only culprits, with mining of lignite, or brown coal, sapping underground waters and pitting residents against major energy company ZE PAK’s proposal for another new mine.
Grzegorz Skowroński, the mayor of Wilczyn, a municipality about 200 km (125 miles) west of Warsaw, said Lake Wilczyńskie’s water level has fallen five metres (16.4 ft) since 2011 and is dropping up to four centimeters a week now.
“The state of the lake today is catastrophic and nearby lakes are affected too as they are all inter-connected,” Skowroński told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
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