Rivers are the life-blood of earth. Without them, we cannot survive. Chile, especially Chilean Patagonia, boasts some of the most beautiful, pristine and untouched rivers in the world. These rivers are said to contain the "purest water on the planet" and rightfully so, as their flow comes from glacier run-offs from the mountains above.
The same country who has some of the most beautiful rivers in the world, also is one of the only countries in the world whose water is fully privatized. This means companies can come in, bid on water rights, and essentially own the rivers. The main incentive to do this is for hydro-electric activity. "Mega" hydro-electric dams have been a huge controversial in Chile for decades and the conversation still remains today.
The Bio Bio river is the classic example of what can go wrong when companies take over and create these mega dams. Once one of the best, if not the best, rivers in the world for whitewater rafting, the Bio Bio is now plagued by two dams that constructed the water flow, destroyed ecosystems and relocated Pehuenche communities that had been living there for centuries. This process is not an anomaly and is happening all over Chile, even on some of the other most scenic and beautiful rivers in the country.
These "mega" dams aren't even the only problem. Demand for hydroelectricity comes directly from the explosive growth of Chile’s mining sector, which is eager to enter the region once a reliable source of electricity is established. Therefore, large-scale electric generation in Patagonia is not only environmentally destructive on its own but also clears the way for large-scale mining. Two development processes that cause extremely negative impacts on the environment.
Fortunately, after decades of fighting, Chile has started to see some serious progress. Endesa Chile, a multinational energy company with US $4.2 billion in 2015 revenues, relinquished rights recently to develop large hydroelectricity projects along five rivers, including the prestigious Futaleufu and Puelo. The people have been fighting for years against this company making this a huge win for the communities in Chile that took a stand to this massive corporation.
The water code, which has plagued Chile for decades, is also currently being scrutinized and under review so water is seen as a human right and not simply seen as a commodity. Although small, these are huge strides for a country that has been fighting against these issues for decades.
There is still a lot of work to be done though, and the organizations that are fighting need your help. Check out some of the organizations below and join their cause for a Patagonia Sin Represas (without dams).