- Spanish energy company Endesa announced on August 30 that they were returning the water rights of the five Chilean rivers to the state because its hydroelectric projects were not viable.
- A coalition of citizens, community groups, and NGOs have been lobbying for two decades, pressuring the Chilean government and Endesa to cancel the dams on Chile’s rivers because of their potential social and environmental impacts, as well as impacts on the tourism industry.
- But with Endesa relinquishing its rights to the rivers, other hydroelectric companies may move in to claim those water rights.
Hydroelectric dams will not come up on five Chilean rivers, at least for now.
On August 30, Spanish energy company Endesa announced that it was revoking all claims to Futaleufú, Puelo, Chillan, Bardón and Huechún rivers in Chile and canceling its hydroelectric projects on the five rivers totaling 2,151 megawatts.
“In the case of these projects … we’ve concluded that they are not viable and for that reason we are returning the water rights to the state so they can be used for some other type of development,” Valter Moro, Chief Executive of Endesa Chile, said in a statement. “Endesa Chile wants to only move forward on projects that are technically and economically viable and that are embraced by the local communities.”
Environmentalists cheer Endesa’s decision, and say that this success was made possible by the cancellation of the HidroAysén project in 2014 — two dams on the Baker River and three on Pascua River. Damming of these two rivers would have potentially flooded 15,000 acres of forest and productive agricultural land in the area, according to International Rivers, an international network of people and organizations committed to “stopping destructive river projects and promoting better options”.
A coalition of citizens, community groups, and NGOs have been lobbying for two decades, pressuring the Chilean government and Endesa to cancel the dams on Chile’s rivers because of their potential social and environmental impacts, as well as impacts on the tourism industry.
“Many organizations and community members have fought for years to foreground the importance of river protection and the many drawbacks of large dams,” International Rivers said in a statement. “We commend Endesa for listening to the voices of the community and affected peoples.”
But with Endesa relinquishing its rights to the rivers, other hydroelectric companies may move in to claim the water rights, environmentalists warn.
“One option is we can actually request those water rights ourselves,” Patrick Lynch, staff attorney and international director at Futaleufu Riverkeeper, told Outside. “A non-profit or coalition of conservation organizations could claim the rights…On the other hand, the rights are also now free for another hydroelectric company to claim. China, the world’s leader in dam building, would be the most likely international suitor. But it’s a risky business trying to build dams in a country whose populace clearly thinks they’ve got enough of them.”