Patagonia's Rivers at Risk

Friday, June 24, 2011

Patagonia is a region of mystery and striking diversity, one of the precious few places on the planet where the array of natural beauty still defies humankind's imagination. But Patagonia is under threat by a proposal to build five dams on two of its wildest rivers. The dams would flood globally rare forest ecosystems and some of the most productive agricultural land in the area. The transmission line could require the world's longest clearcut. The government's approval of the dams' environmental studies in May 2011 set off major protests around Chile.


What's Inside


Patagonia – a region that covers much of South America’s southern cone – is a place where fjords, glaciers, coastal rainforests, dry steppes, pristine lakes, and rushing rivers can all be found within a short distance of each other. It is a place of small ranches and farms, ecotourism businesses, and great natural beauty.

A consortium of Chilean and European companies called HidroAysén hopes to dam two of Patagonia’s wildest and most remote rivers – the Baker and Pascua.They also propose to build a 2,000-km transmission line to export the electricity from Patagonia to feed Chile’s mammoth mining industry and biggest cities in the center of the country.

The Baker and Pascua rivers are located in Aysén, Chile’s most sparsely populated region.The Pascua River literally jumps out of Lago O’Higgins into a series of class-6+ rapids and waterfalls, making it one of the most rapidly flowing rivers on the planet. Pristine freshwater from the jagged peaks and glaciers of Patagonia’s Southern Ice Cap churns its way through a maze of canyons into the Pascua.

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