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Rivers of Patagonia

Baker River, near its source at Bertrand Lake

Baker River, near its source at Bertrand Lake
Credit: Glenn Switkes
See larger image

Patagonia, at the end of the Earth, is a region of mystery and striking diversity, one of the precious few places on the planet where the array of natural beauty still defies man’s imagination. Stretching for about 386,000 square miles on both the Argentine and Chilean sides of the Andes mountains, Patagonia is a place where fjords, glaciers, coastal rainforests, dry steppes, pure lakes, and rushing rivers can all be found within a short distance of each other.

While Patagonia has suffered serious impacts from human greed and ignorance in modern times, it remains a natural marvel. Its forests, though heavily logged, still support endemic species of great rarity and beauty The grasslands of Patagonia have been overgrazed by sheep herders, yet are still inhabited by condor, guanaco, and puma. Pacific fjords are suffering the environmental impacts of industrial salmon culture, but a traveler can still see whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, and penguins along the Patagonian coast.

The wild rivers of Patagonia are the international standard for adventure travel -- the Futaleufu, Baker, Pascua, and others are a daunting challenge for even the most experienced river runners. Introduced trout species have flourished in Patagonia, attracting fly fishermen from around the world. Hikers and campers have made Patagonia’s ecotourism industry a rapidly-growing source of income for the local economy.

In recognition of the enormous potential of ecotourism, environmentalists and political leaders in Chilean Patagonia have proposed preserving the region as a "Life Reserve," and an international campaign succeeded in stopping plans by the Canadian company Noranda to build the Alumysa hydroelectric dam and aluminum smelter complex in Patagonian fjords and rainforests.

Now, the Spanish company Endesa -- which succeeded in building two dams on Chile’s Biobio river after a bitter decade-long fight, displacing indigenous Pehuenche communities and causing untold environmental damage -- says it is planning to build four hydroelectric dams on two of Patagonia’s best-preserved rivers, the Baker and Pascua. According to Endesa, the four dams would have a total installed generating capacity of 2,800 MW, and would cost $2.5 billon, plus an additional $1.5 billion to construct transmission lines more than 1,200 miles long to connect the remote region to the national power grid. Hydro Quebec’s subsidiary, Transelec, is reportedly interested in building the power lines. Chilean environmentalists are organizing in opposition to Endesa’s plans, which they say would deal a heavy blow to the burgeoning ecotourism industry and would cause significant impacts to fragile ecosystems and protected areas. They say there are far less destructive energy alternatives for Chile than damming the rivers of Patagonia.

Background

The Rivers of Patagonia
Video produced by IRN’s Glenn Switkes.

latest additions

Environmentalists Say New HydroAysén Project Design Does Not Diminish Project’s Impacts
Declaration by Citizens’ Committee for Aysén Life Reserve and Ecosistemas, August 9, 2007.
HydroAysén Says It Will Reduce Size of Flooded Area By 36.5%
Translation of consortium press release, August 9, 2007.
Endesa and Colbún Present "Improved" HydroAysén Project
Read the presentation (in Spanish), August 9, 2007.
Chilean Environmental Agency Rejects Swiss Mining Company’s Dam Plan in Patagonia
IRN press release, March 22, 2007.
Patagonia, a Global Treasure
Op-ed by Glenn Switkes on plans to dam the rivers of Patagonia, San Francisco Chronicle, February 2007.
Aysen Hydroelectric Project - "Etapa de Prospección" (Spanish)
Endesa’s presentation (in Spanish) on its plans to dam the rivers of Patagonia, October 20, 2006.
Highway Threatens Chilean Preserve Created by San Francisco Man
San Francisco Chronicle reporter Robert Collier explains how the newly elected Government of President Michelle Bachelet shocked environmentalists around the world. The Chilean president is proposing building a highway through the park and backing a hydroelectric project that will dam the Baker and Pasqua rivers, world-famous for fishing and whitewater kayaking, SF Chronicle, October 8, 2006.
Rivers of Patagonia Fact Sheet
IRN Fact Sheet, June 2, 2006.
Reasons to Oppose Dams in Patagonia
Read the article by Juan Pablo Orrego, April 27, 2006.
International Day of Action Activities in Campaign Against Patagonia Dams
Read Ecosistemas’ press release about petitions opposing the dams delivered to Chile’s Superintendent of Electricity and Fuels, March 15, 2006.
Initial Opposition Petitions Presented to Chilean Government
Read Ecosistemas’ press release about initial petitions opposing dams in Patagonia presented to to Chile’s Superintendent of Electricity and Fuels, January 13, 2006.
Anteproyecto Hidroelétrico Aysén
See the PowerPoint by Endesa presenting the company’s plans for damming the rivers of Patagonia, January 3, 2006.
Environmentalists Meet With Endesa
Read Ecosistemas’ press release following meeting with Endesa, January 3, 2006.
Minister Rodriguez Is Acting As If He Were A Corporate Official
Read Ecosistemas’ press release in reaction to statements by Chile’s Economic and Energy Minister defending dams in Patagonia, November 24, 2005.
Additional Information

Glenn Switkes, Latin America Campaigns Director

International Rivers Network

E–mail: glenns@superig.com.br

Phone: +55 11 3822 4157