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Learning from HidroAysén to defeat Site C

Patagonia without dams!

The people of Chile won a massive environmental victory when the Chilean government announced this past June that it would reject the HidroAysén mega-dam project on the Baker and Pascua rivers in the southern Chilean region of Patagonia. The project had been approved just three years earlier in 2011, but concerted pressure from the people eventually defeated the dam.

The $10 billion HidroAysén mega-dam project would have flooded 5,900 hectares of land, caused irreparable damage to watersheds, endangered wildlife, and severely affected the local tourism economy. The transmission lines from the dam would have passed through the territory of the Mapuche peoples as well as the lands of other Indigenous peoples. And it would have produced 2,750 megawatts of power for mining projects that would have caused further harm. Unfortunately, the Chilean government now says it will add terminals to receive liquefied natural gas (including it hopes from British Columbia) to replace the energy that would have been generated by the dams.

The recently approved $8.8 billion Site C dam in British Columbia would flood more than 5,500 hectares of land, cause irreparable damage to the Peace River Valley, jeopardize part of the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation corridor critical for wildlife movement, and impede a river that sustains recreational and tourism activities. The dam would also severely impact the hunting and fishing rights of Treaty 8 nations and submerge 78 First Nation heritage sites, including burial grounds and places of cultural and spiritual significance. And the dam would produce 1,100 megawatts of power that is likely to go to the province’s LNG industry, as well as for mining and forestry.

Construction on Site C could begin as early as the summer of 2015 and it’s estimated that it would be operational in about nine years time.

Numerous organizations and individuals are opposed to the Site C dam in British Columbia, including the West Moberly First Nations, the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, the Wilderness Committee, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Council of Canadians and many others. In the fight against the HidroAysén project, a diverse coalition of close to 70 Chilean and international organizations came together as the Consejo de Defensa de la Patagonia (Patagonia Defense Council).

Now may be the time to reflect on the defeat of HidroAysén, learn from and connect with our Chilean and Mapuchean allies, and ensure that Chile doesn’t stop a destructive dam project only to import LNG powered by a destructive dam project in Canada.

The Vancouver office of the Council of Canadians has been opposing the Site C dam, while our international water campaign – the Blue Planet Project – sees mega dams as one of the biggest threats to scarce freshwater sources in the world today. The Blue Planet Project has campaigned against numerous dams, most notably the proposed Zapotillo dam in Mexico, while the Council of Canadians has raised concerns about proposed dams, including Muskrat Falls in Newfoundland and Labrador, La Romaine in Quebec, Conawapa and Keeyask in Manitoba, Bala Falls and Enerdu in Ontario, as well as existing dams such as Jenpeg in Manitoba.

There are more than 40,000 large dams (taller than a four storey building) around the world now, 933 of which are in Canada. To see the trailer for DamNation, a documentary about the hope for the decommissioning and removal of dams in the United States, please click here.

Further reading
Council of Canadians opposes Site C dam (October 2014 blog)
WIN! Council of Canadians celebrates defeat of HidroAysen dam project (June 2014 blog)
Maude Barlow’s 9-point critique of major dams (November 2013 blog)
Chile seeks BC fracked gas for its mining and desalination projects (June 2013 blog)
Dam Truths: A compilation of case studies about popular struggles against dams (March 2012 Blue Planet Project report)