Between 1973 and 2009, the Storting included 388 river systems or parts of river systems in the Protection Plan for Water Resources. They are intended to comprise a representative cross-section of Norway’s freshwater environment.
The main effect of inclusion in the Protection Plan is that no licences for large-scale hydropower projects will be issued for the river. Mini and micro hydropower plants, normally limited to an installed capacity of up to 1 MW, can be considered for licensing provide that they will not reduce the conservation value of the river system.
Developers are also expected to avoid any reduction of the conservation value in connection with other kinds of development in and near rivers that are included in the Protection Plan. Norway has adopted National Policy Guidelines for protected river systems, which require municipalities and other authorities to take the protection decision and the value of the river system fully into account both during planning procedures and when considering individual projects under the Planning and Building Act and other relevant legislation such as the Water Resources Act, the Land Act and the Forestry Act.
The final additions to the Protection Plan were made in 2009. They involved three river systems in different parts of Norway - the remainder of the Tovdalsvassdraget river system in Vest-Agder, most of the Vefsna river system in Nordland and the river Langvelle in Sør-Trøndelag.
For the Vefsna, it was decided that small hydropower projects (not defined by installed capacity) may be considered for licensing provided that they will not reduce the conservation value of the river system.
The Water Resources and Energy Directorate has the overall responsibility for managing protected river systems.