Hydroelectric Power Station, Laxá River, Skútustaðahreppur, Iceland


In the years 1969 to 1973 a conflict took place over the lake Mývatn and the river Laxá in the district of Skútustaðahreppur in Iceland. The company Laxárvirkjun, owned by the Icelandic state and the town of Akureyri, had plans to build a hydroelectric power station in the Laxá river. The plan included redirecting 3 rivers into lake Mývatn to generate more power, as well as building a 37-57 m high dam, with the consequence of putting the entire valley of Laxárdalur under water. The farmers of the valley were not offered compensation for their properties and land but instead they were given a date when the river valley would be flooded.

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Basic Data
NameHydroelectric Power Station, Laxá River, Skútustaðahreppur, Iceland
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity

Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe dam that needed to be built for the power station would be 37-57 meters high. As a part of the project it was also suggested that 3 rivers would be redirected and channelled into lake Mývatn to generate more power. (1)
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date1969
Company Names or State EnterprisesLaxárvirkjun from Iceland
Relevant government actorsLaxárvirkjun
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSUNN, Environmental protection Agency (no website, no information)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseProject cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
As a result of public resistance, the company ceased from their plan to build the dam and hydroelectric power station and thus also from putting the whole valley of Laxárdalur under water. (1)
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.After a long and complicated legal process the company did not build the dam but instead built a smaller flow power station that did not have severe effects on the people of the land and that would not result in expropriation.

The lake Mývatn and the river Laxá were given special protection under the legislative act no. 36/1974 which later became act no. 97/2004 due to reformation in 2004. A nature research center, Ramý, was founded along with the protection law in 1974 and since 1977 the lake with surrounding area has been a Ramsar site. The lake and river are on the tentative list of UNESCO and has been since 2011. (1, 2)

Sources and Materials

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Icelandic Act No. 97/2004


(1) Sigurjónsdóttir, Sigríður Bylgja. 2012. What changed in 43 years? A comparison of the River Laxá dispute with perspectives towards the proposed Bjarnarflag geothermal power station in Skútustaðahreppur, Iceland. Master thesis, Human Geography Departme
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(2) Mývatn and Laxá, Unesco,
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorLinda Dubec
Last update08/04/2014