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Drin River basin

The Drin River starts at the confluence of its two headwaters, the transboundary Black Drin and White Drin Rivers at Kukës in Albania. The interconnected hydrological system of the Drin River basin comprises the transboundary sub-basins of the Black Drin, White Drin, and Buna/Bojana (outflow of Skadar/Shkoder Lake in the Adriatic Sea) Rivers, and the subbasins of Prespa, Ohrid and Skadar/Shkoder Lakes.

Albania, Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo (UN administered territory under UN Security Council Resolution 1244) and Montenegro share the Drin Basin.

Hydrology and hydrogeology

Water flows out of Lake Ohrid (average discharge: 22 cu m/s) into the Black Drin River near Struga, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Radika River is a major transboundary tributary of the Black Drin. The river runs 149 km (as Drin i Zi) until Kukës, Albania, where it joins the White Drin River (136 km long). Their confluence, the Drin, flows further westward and discharges into the Adriatic Sea. The old Drin channel discharges into the Adriatic south of the Buna/ Bojana River near the city of Lezhe, but the Drin's major channel is the 11-km Drinasa, which joins the Buna/Bojana just 1 km beyond the latter's outlet from Skadar/Shkoder Lake near the city of Shkodra. The Drin delta is located 20 km south of the Buna/Bojana Delta.

The Drin River Basin is characterized by mountainous relief, with a mean elevation of 971 m a.s.l. (the highest peaks are over 2,500 m), and flat land in the coastal area.

The White Drin is hydraulically connected with the shared karstic Beli Drim/Drini Bardhe aquifer.

Pressures, status and transboundary impacts

The Black Drin sub-basin, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, is mainly covered by forests (52%) and agricultural land (16%).

The significance of the Drin River and its main tributaries in terms of hydropower production is major, especially for Albania, where plants installed produce 85% of hydropower, and represent 70% of the total hydro and thermal installed capacity in the country. In Albania, there are 44 dams (4 for energy production and 40 for irrigation purposes). The construction of the Ashta hydropower plant began in 2009 near Skadar/ Shkoder, with capacity downscaled to 40 megawatts (MW) from the original 80 MW, after consultations with Montenegro. There are plans for the construction of an additional plant (Skavica, planned installed capacity of 350 MW), — the process for the expression of interest was initiated in 2008. Two major dams, Globochica and Spilja, exist on the Black Drin in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with a main purpose of hydropower production. The alteration of the hydrological characteristics of the Drin, due to dam construction, has had an impact in the distribution of sediments, and caused disturbances to the ecosystems supported. Biological corridors that facilitate migration have been interrupted, exerting major pressure on biodiversity.

Open-cast metal (iron and nickel) mines in Albania were closed a long time ago, but the sites have not been landscaped, and tailings continue to cause heavy metal pollution (iron, copper etc.); there is no available data regarding the level of pollution.

Abstraction of groundwater in Kosovo (UN administered territory under UN Security Council resolution 1244) and waste disposal, sanitation and sewer leakage in Albania are the main pressure factors as far as Beli Drim/Drini Bardhe aquifer is concerned. Nitrogen, pesticides and pathogens (only locally in Albania) have been observed.

In the Black Drin sub-basin, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, there is extensive cattle production. The intensive tourism around lakes Ohrid and Prespa and in the National Park Mavrovo is another pressure factor. The expected increase in water demand in the Black Drin sub-basin catchment area for drinking water, irrigation and fisheries will result in increased pressure on the system.

Considerable nutrient loads are transported into the Adriatic Sea via the Drin and Buna/Bojana rivers. Whereas agriculture is the main source of nitrogen and phosphorus in the river system as a whole, the source distribution varies geographically. In the lower parts of the drainage system, in the Buna River, most of the phosphorus load derives from agriculture, however, sewage is more important in the upper parts.

The great number of illegal dumpsites is of particular concern in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.


Discharge and water level are being monitored at nine gauging stations in the Black Drin catchment area in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; quantity and quality monitoring of the groundwater in the country needs to be improved.

Numerous measures are needed with regard to Beli Drim/Drini Bardhe aquifer; priority should be given to monitoring groundwater quantity and quality, detailed hydrogeological and vulnerability mapping, delineation of protection zones, construction of wastewater treatment facilities as well as to public awareness campaigns.


The Drin River basin includes the following lakes: