The Uruguay River, its dams, and its people are running out of water

Fundación Proteger
Friday, February 1, 2008

(Salto, Uruguay)

Due to lack of water, the bi-national Salto Grande Dam (Argentina/Uruguay) is producing energy with only three turbines, in order to keep the reservoir’s water level at an acceptable level. Its managers say that the dam’s electric production will be restricted until the situation improves. "There is very little water simply because it has not rained", the president of the Uruguayan Committee of the Salto Grande Joint Commission, Enrique Topolansky explained .

The director of the PROTEGER Foundation, Jorge Cappato, said that "while the building of Garabí, another dam on the Uruguay river, is being discussed, the most renowned hydroelectric dam on the Uruguay (Salto Grande) barely operates. Meanwhile, in Brazil, the Itá, Machadinho, Passo Fundo and Barra Grande dams are stocking water; and fifteen more dams are slated for construction in the Uruguay Basin".

"This highlights the lack of coordination among the countries, and the lack of a shared water resources management policy in the La Plata Basin. We noticed this when Iguassu Falls dried in June, 2006, due to the stocking of water in upstream dams; and then in 2007, when news about the increased pressure to build new dams and dirty industries started to mushroom. Less discharge and more pollution is an equation that does not work", Cappato indicated.

"Everything points out that we are facing towards true chaos in the Basin. Large structures and large-scale unsustainable changes are creating mounting conflicts between the projects, affecting the people of the region. The groundwater decline as a result of monocultures is part of the same problem. Negative impacts accumulate and worsen each other –there will be a very large social cost", emphasized Cappato, who is also the Chairman of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Regional Committee for South America.

Concern about Drinking Water

"Our duty is to preserve drinking water for downstream cities, especially Salto and Concordia, and that is the reason to store water in the lake", explained Topolansky. The official stated that the electric production of Salto Grande dam is being reduced until the rainfall situation improves.The distribution of energy is managed by load dispatch centers of both Argentina and Uruguay. Topolansky says that although Uruguay sometimes sells energy to Argentina, "now with so little energy production, Uruguay uses its entire 50%".

Three working turbines

Topolansky indicated that out the 14 existing turbines, only three are working. He pointed out that normally Salto Grande fulfills 60%-70% of Uruguayan demand, "but at present it only meets 5% of the demand". As regards the rain forecast, he said that for the present week it is for 10 millimeters, "which is not even enough to reach the reservoir".

Although this January is dry, it is not among the worst in the last 29 years. At present the spillways bear 1,600 cubic meters of water per second. "Statistics show that there were 10 drier Januaries than the present one", said Topolansky.

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