Until I visited Patagonia in January, I wasn’t really aware of what the Hidroaysen plan actually was. It was through visiting the Chilean Lake District and meeting members of Conservacion Cochamo that I realised that this wasn’t a one-off attempt to turn one river into a hydroelectricity generating plant, it was a nationwide project backed by Chile’s President, Sebastián Piñera (Chile’s richest man). Conservacion Cochamo is an organisation set up a couple of years ago to protect a river in the Cochamo Valley from being turned into a source of hydroelectricity. So far they’ve been successful, but the next government is under no obligation to uphold Pinera’s promise to protect the river and the entire battle may begin again. When you consider that most Chileans make a living off the land, or in adventure tourism, it’s no wonder they’re worried.
If you don’t know much about the HydroAysen plan either, it’s a billion dollar joint venture between Endesa Chile and Colbun S.A that plan to build five hydroelectric power stations, two in Baker River and three in Pascua River, which will create an average annual energy production of 18,430 GWH, which, as Chile’s demand for energy increases by 7% each year, is a step in the right direction energy-wise. The HydroAysen Project claims that its project will not only help solve Chile’s energy crisis by creating clean and sustainable means of generating energy, instead of relying on natural gas pumped from Argentina, but it will provide jobs and security for the regions inhabitants. The inhabitants believe it will destroy their way of life.
Personally, after reading and watching videos filmed with locals in the Bio Bio region at the site of a hydroelectric dam, I’m worried for the effects that the proposed Aysen dams will have on the locals. In one video, a local explains that although many things were promised to them in return for moving off the land to make way for the plant, nothing has been done in the area and they’ve seen absolutely no hospitals, schools and libraries materialise, as promised. The video below shows the Vice President of the Senate of the Republic of Chile, Juan Pablo Letelier speaking out against HydroAysen, and why building hydroelectric dams isn’t the way forward in Chile.
I also dread the thought of seeing pylons and power lines stretching through the landscape of the Torres del Paine National Park, a place of pristine beauty and the natural habitat of many species native to Chile. With this in mind, I would like to see Aysen at its best and before it’s potentially changed forever by the impact of hydroelectricity. One of the adventure’s offered by our partners in this region, really shows of the highlights of Aysen and was referred to by the operator as his favourite trip in the most beautiful area of southern Patagonia:
Aysen Glacier Trail – 10 days trekking on vast glaciers, hiking through valleys and forests and visiting the river at the heart of this controversy, the Rio Baker.
Horse ride to Glacier Nef – 7 days horse riding to the beautiful Glacier Nef
Whatever the potential benefits of the dams, resistance against the pending plans saw some 30,000 people to join in protest on 13th May in Santiago’s streets against the government and Piñera’s claims that the project will boost Chile’s power supply by 20 percent. In the meantime, a court in the Patagonian town of Puerto Montt have upheld an appeal lodged by several Chilean senators and environmental groups challenging the legality of the decision to approve the project. Environmentalists will now have time to study three different environmental issues which were overlooked in the project’s latest Environmental Impact Assessment.
Colin Barraclough joined a group of environmentalists on a visit the River Pascua, a rich spot for native flora & fauna and one of the rivers where HidroAysen plans to build a power station. As the environmentalists gathered information to try to protect the river, he saw first hand why so many Chileans are against it. In his article, ‘Troubled Waters‘, Colin paints a detailed picture of the diversity of the flora and fauna in this region, its beauty and wildness before describing the moment he see’s the building of an access road across the valley in preparation for the dam, as a ‘dark, raw, forbidding scar’.
Ironically, even though this project would contribute to Eco Tourism by providing clean energy (a model which many Patagonian travel operators follow), at the same time it would actually flood some 23 sq miles of forest and see Endesa run a 1,180 mile transmission line through the forest. This, environmentalists argue, would ruin the landscape and endanger the habitat of animals such as the torrent duck, river otter and culpeo fox, all of which live in the Valdivian forest.
As Colin notes, the ruling has been intepreted very differently by both sides, with a lawyer for HidroAysen commenting that it would not alter the time frame for the start of the project in the slightest. So, as the HydroAysen furore rages on, one thing remains to be seen, who will win in the race against time to protect Patagonia’s rivers?
You can read Colin’s article about his experience in the Valdivian forest and at the two rivers here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/922f567a-98cf-11e0-bd66-00144feab49a.html#axzz1Qg7RondO
…and you can join the campaign against HidroAysen by visiting this Facebook campaign: http://www.facebook.com/YoEstoyEnContraDeHidroAYSEN