The Baker River, in Chilean Patagonia

Patagonia Sin Represas

In 2007, Patagonia Sin Represas was created by a broad coalition of citizens, community groups, and national and international NGOs known as the Consejo de Defensa de la Patagonia (CDP, or Patagonia Defense Council) as a campaign to protect Patagonia from destructive development.

From 2007 to 2014, we worked alongside the CDP to protect two of Chilean Patagonia’s wildest rivers from the HidroAysén dam project, which included five controversial megadams. On June 10, 2014 the Committee of Ministers – the country’s highest administrative authority – cancelled the environmental permits for the dams.

The campaign to protect Patagonia became the largest environmental struggle in the country’s history. The tireless efforts of river defenders in Chile and around the world helped create massive popular opposition to HidroAysén – both within Chile and abroad – which eventually led to the project being cancelled.

HidroAysén proposed to build three dams on the Pascua River and two dams on the Baker River in the Aysén region of southern Chile. The dams would have flooded nearly 15,000 acres of globally rare forest ecosystems and some of the most productive agricultural land in the area.

HidroAysén also would have required a 1,912-km-long transmission line traversing pristine forests and a seismically active region to transfer the electricity from the dams thousands of kilometers north to serve Chile’s biggest cities and its mammoth copper industry, without benefit to the unknown number of people who would have been adversely affected by HidroAysén and its transmission line.

The HidroAysén dam project was first developed in 2006. In August 2008, HidroAysén submitted its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to Chilean authorities for approval. Due to serious flaws and omissions in the project plans, three addenda were required to address these shortcomings, and over 10,000 public comments were submitted. The HidroAysén Environmental Impact Assesment was approved by an 11-1 vote on May 9, 2011, despite outstanding flaws and omissions of critical data. A Supreme Court ruling in April 2012 in favor of HidroAysén caused a resurgence of unprecedented public opposition with subsequent legal actions against the project.

In May 2012, Colbun – 49% owner of HidroAysen – publicly announced that it had indefinitely suspended plans to seek environmental permission to build transmission lines due to a lack of political agreement in the country around energy development.

Protests Against HidroAysén in Paris, May 2011
Protests Against HidroAysén in Paris, May 2011
© Margit Atzler

Today, the Consejo de Defensa de la Patagonia is working tirelessly to expose the problems with damming any rivers in Patagonia, as well as to propose alternatives that would offer sustainable development for Chile.

Chile is a country with many energy options. Studies by The University of Chile and other experts have found that HidroAysén and other hydroelectric dams are not necessary to meet Chile's future energy needs. Investment in energy efficiency, together with renewable sources such as solar, geothermal and wind, would ensure a sustainable energy future for Chile. International Rivers and our partners are calling for the Chilean government and the private sector to support cleaner alternatives and to keep Patagonia's rivers wild.

More information: 
  • Sign up for our Rivers of Patagonia listserv
  • Read Dams for Patagonia from July 2010 Science Magazine. Includes an analysis HidroAysén and the proposal by Xstrata subsidiary Energía Austral to build another series of large dams in the region of Aysén.