Keep Chilean Patagonia Wild
Published: May 23, 2011
An environmental review commission in the Aysï¿½n region of southern
Chile has made a potentially disastrous decision, voting to approve
the construction of five hydroelectric dams, two on the Baker River
and three on the Pascua. The damage these dams would do to the
environment is tremendous, and their construction ï¿½ in a largely
unspoiled natural haven ï¿½ would open the way for further development,
including more dams.
The Baker and Pascua Rivers flow into the wild fiords that thread
their way along the southern Chilean coast. The dams would partially
flood a national park as well as portions of a landscape that Chile
had been hoping to have named a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The vote follows an environmental review that looked only at the
immediate consequences of construction and not the long-term effects
on the ecology of these watersheds or the downstream risks of damming
short, violent, glacial rivers that are subject to abrupt outburst
floods from the lakes above them. To deliver the power they would
generate ï¿½ some 2.75 gigawatts ï¿½ Chile would have to build a 1,400-
mile corridor of power lines to the north, creating the longest clear-
cut on the planet.
There is no disputing Chileï¿½s energy needs or the fact that it pays
much more for electricity than any of its neighbors. But major studies
have made it clear that Chile has extraordinary renewable energy
sources, including solar, geothermal and wind power that could be
developed with far less impact on the environment.
This is an early skirmish in a lengthy, hard-fought battle. A separate
environmental review must be completed and approved for the
transmission corridor. We hope it takes a more comprehensive look at
the damage this project would cause. Perhaps then the Chilean
government, which supports the dam project, will come to understand
what many Chileans already know: that sacrificing Patagonia for power
would be an irreparable mistake.
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