The Future of Patagonia is in Your Hands
Mar 18, 2013
Hydroelectric Project on the Futaleufú to be Chile’s Second Largest
The word Futaleufú is almost unpronounceable the first time you see it. But it becomes unforgettable the first time you paddle down the river. For anyone who has spent time on the Futaleufú, the rapids and the landscape become etched in the mind. Located in the inaccessible northern hinterland of Chilean Patagonia, the river (and the land it nourishes) is one of extremes. As rugged as any mountain river valley found in the contiguous United States, the Futaleufú valley has a 6,000 ft. vertical relief between the valley floor and the glacier-topped mountains encircling it. For the truly ambitious, it is possible to go rafting and swimming in the morning and be camping up on the snowline by nightfall.
The whitewater season on the Futaleufú River is a short one. It only lasts about four months before the hostile weather of the Andes closes in, returning the river to another eight months of winter hibernation. Unfortunately the life of this river and the landscape it inhabits may be as comparably short.
What’s threatening the Futaleufú?
In 1996, just five years after the first successful raft descent of the river, it was announced that the water rights to the Futaleufú River were purchased by Endesa, the largest private electricity multinational in Latin America. Endesa plans to generate 1,367 megawatts of power by placing three dams along the Futaleufú River. Because of the river’s strength and reliable year-round flows, a hydroelectric project on the Futaleufú River is too big to pass up. Together, the dams will comprise about one third of Endesa’s total hydroelectric portfolio in Chile.
Having lain fallow for almost fifteen years with little more than rumors circulating around, the project has now entered the development pipeline and is well on its way to becoming a reality unless local communities and businesses can unite to stop it.
This project will be the second-largest hydro project in Patagonia, following Endesa’s more well-known HidroAysen project south of the Futaleufú, on the Baker and Pascua Rivers. Endesa envisions a Patagonia where the Baker and Pascua serve as a southern anchor to a massive power line snaking through the entire region. The power line will serve like a zipper, opening up the landscape to the mining and logging industries which for decades have avoided the region due to unreliable sources of energy and poor infrastructure. With the transmission line established, projects up and down Patagonia will be able to receive or transmit power to and from the national grid. The Futaleufú valley, which is largely unprotected from development, will become a boon for not just for Endesa’s dam-building operations but also the ever-expanding mining sector.
Nobody wants to see this happen, which is why the people in Chile need your help.
How you can help
A new organization, the Futaleufú Riverkeeper, was launched in 2012 by a Chilean environmental attorney to protect the Futaleufú from being destroyed. They need your help. O.A.R.S. has already joined the Futaleufú Riverkeeper as a supporter. In addition to donating a portion of their proceeds from running trips on the Futaleufú each year, O.A.R.S. is also donating $1 for every new Facebook like they get through the end of March, 2013 (up to $2,500). Please help raise funds for the Futaleufú by liking and then sharing the O.A.R.S. Facebook Page.
Another big way you can help is to give directly. There are two ways to do this. The Futaleufú Riverkeeper is a Chilean nonprofit with 501(c)3 fiscal sponsorship in the U.S., meaning you can make a tax-deductible donation online through the Waterkeeper Alliance. Waterkeepers around the world (with help from people like Edward James Olmos) are fighting to protect local watersheds and the communities who depend on them for survival.
In Futaleufú, communities have adopted a tourism-oriented future that has tremendous potential for economic growth while keeping the river and its tributaries intact. These communities are willing to fight to protect their right to enjoy and benefit from their environment. Local opposition is no small obstacle for Endesa, which has had trouble getting projects approved in Chile since its overtly aggressive approach to damming the Bio Bio River in the mid-1990s. (Read more about the Bio Bio River in an interview with the Riverkeeper’s Executive Director). Community opposition combined with the legal strategies being developed by the Futaleufú Riverkeeper can stop this project in its tracks before Endesa and its investors become completely committed.
Finally, you can also support the Riverkeeper by booking your own adventure down the Futaleufú, on a trip National Geographic recently highlighted as one of ten great adventure trips that give back.
The Future of Patagonia
After two decades of gaining fame the world over among whitewater and adventure sport enthusiasts, the Futaleufú River is now caught up in the global quest for more natural resources. The mantra of developers is always that one more dam or one more mine will solve the world’s resource problems. But if history is the judge, the exploitation of Patagonia will only momentarily sate the world’s appetite, not quench it. Large dam proponents like Endesa want us to permanently trade away the world’s most amazing rivers for a few decades of shareholder returns for their investors. Meanwhile, regions like Patagonia are trying to decide their own destinies, and they are choosing economic growth that incorporates the protection of irreplaceable landscapes, valleys and rivers. For many the answer is clear: ¡Patagonia Sin Represas! With your help, large hydro and mining will stay out of Patagonia, and future generations will get to experience the thrill of paddling and rafting down the mighty Fu. Please join the fight today.