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Le Rouge et le Blanc, ou le Fil d'Ariane d'un voyageur naturaliste

Peru's mega-dam projects threaten Amazon River source and ecosystem collapse (David Hill)

4 Mai 2015 , Rédigé par Pierre-Olivier Combelles

David Hill a créé la rubrique "Andes to Amazon" http://www.theguardian.com/environment/andes-to-the-amazon dans le media britannique The Guardian, dans laquelle il informe régulièrement un vaste public sur la situation de l'environnement en Amérique du Sud. Dans ce nouvel article paru aussi sur le site écologique Mongabay.com, il nous parle des 20 barrages hydro-électriques en projet ou en construction sur le fleuve Marañon, dans l'Amazonie péruvienne, qui doivent servir à produire de l'électricité principalement pour les mines et l'exportation. Les conséquences sur l'environnement et sur les populations locales seront catastrophiques. Rappelons que les forêts primaires tropicales abritent 70% de la biodiversité terrestre (Francis Hallé) et de nombreuses populations aborigènes (Ñaupa Machu, en quechua: les ancêtres vénérables) vivant de la chasse, de la pêche et de l'agro-foresterie depuis des temps immémoriaux.

Pierre-Olivier Combelles


'The Marañón River in Peru where the government is proposing more than 20 dams on the main trunk.' . Photo credit: David Hill
'The Marañón River in Peru where the government is proposing more than 20 dams on the main trunk.'. Photo credit: David Hill

 

This article was produced under Mongabay.org's Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program and can be re-published on your web site or in your magazine, newsletter, or newspaper under these terms.

 

 

 

Peru is planning a series of huge hydroelectric dams on the 1,700-kilometer (1,056-mile) Marañón River, which begins in the Peruvian Andes and is the main source of the Amazon River. Critics say the mega-dam projects could destroy the currently free-flowing Marañón, resulting in what Peruvian engineer Jose Serra Vega calls its "biological death."
 

In 2011, Peru passed a law declaring the construction of 20 dams on the main trunk of the Marañón to be in the "national interest" and that the projects will launch the country's "long-term National Energy Revolution." But many Peruvians following the issue believe the planned dams are less about meeting "national demand" for electricity as the law reads, and more about supplying mining companies, and exporting to neighboring countries.

According to the government, the potential maximum demand for electricity is projected to be just over 12,000 megawatts (MW) by 2025, assuming very high growth rates are maintained. But the 20 Marañón dams alone listed in the 2011 law are expected to produce more than 12,400 megawatts, and that doesn't include the generating capacity of all the existing and other proposed dams in the Marañón Basin as a whole, and on other Peruvian rivers.

"Who is all this energy for? For people, or for the [mining] companies? The answer is: the companies," says Milton Sanchez, from the Plataforma Interinstitucional Celendina, a coalition of some 40 grassroots organizations based in the Celendin province of the Cajamarca region, which would be heavily impacted by the dams.

'Detail from a mural in the town of Celendin where opposition to the proposed Conga mine is high. Many people believe the proposed dams for the Marañón, like Chadin 2, are intended to supply energy to destructive mining projects, like Conga.' Photo credit: David Hill'Detail from a mural in the town of Celendin where opposition to the proposed Conga mine is high. Many people believe the proposed dams for the Marañón, like Chadin 2, are intended to supply energy to destructive mining projects, like Conga.' Photo credit: David Hill

Serra Vega says that the construction of just four of the dams would destroy fish migrations and stop the deposition of vital nutrient-rich sediments downriver. These soils fertilize the crops on which thousands of Peruvians depend. "Studies show that when dams are built, 90 percent of the fish disappear. The main trunk [of the river] will die," says Serra Vega.

A 2014 report by the US-based NGO International Rivers (IR) agrees that the plans put the future of the Marañón at risk. IR used the sparse information available on the proposed dams to map potentially flooded areas. They concluded that the reservoirs created by the dams would inundate approximately 7,000 square kilometers (2,703 square miles) along 80 percent of the river's main trunk. "The currently vibrant and free-flowing river would be almost completely drowned," said the report.

Local resident Juana stands in front of graffiti protesting the Chadin 2 dam. Photo credit: David Hill.
One local resident whose house and land would be flooded by one of the many proposed dams - Chadín 2 - for the Marañón River Photo credit: Luis Herrera

Trouble flows downstream to the Amazon

International Rivers' Latin America Program Coordinator Monti Aguirre told Mongabay.com that the dams have been "poorly planned" and will cause "serious problems for the entire Amazon basin."

"There is no cumulative impact assessment, no trans-boundary environmental impact assessment, no accounting of the impact these projects would have on people's livelihoods and food production, and no study on how climate change will affect the performance of these projects," Aguirre said. "Serious studies could probably show that there is no need for any of them."

Paul Little, an environmental anthropologist, says that the Marañón dams could contribute to the Amazon's "ecosystem collapse", especially given that neighboring countries have similar plans for other rivers that birth in the Andes and feed into the Amazon.

'The Ameiva nodam lizard named to raise awareness of the proposed dams. It is one of many species discovered by German herpetologist Claudia Koch in the Marañón valley.' Photo credit: Claudia Koch
'The Ameiva nodam lizard named to raise awareness of the proposed dams. It is one of many species discovered by German herpetologist Claudia Koch in the Marañón valley.' Photo credit: Claudia Koch

"The construction of many large-scale dams in the vast headwaters region of the Amazon Basin -- encompassing parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia -- will produce critical changes in continental water flows," states a 2014 report, Mega-Development Projects in Amazonia: A geopolitical and socio environmental primer, authored by Little. "This new wave of dam building in the headwaters of the [Amazon] Basin is a hydrological experiment of continental proportions, yet little is known scientifically of pan-Amazonian hydrological dynamics, creating the risk of provoking irreversible changes in rivers."

Little told Mongabay.com that Peru's plans for the Marañón could "provoke major disruptions in flooding cycles, fish migrations and sediment deposits throughout the Amazon Basin with potentially disastrous, but hitherto unknown, ecological consequences."

"These dramatic changes in continental water and sediment flows would also hinder the human use of the rich Amazon floodplains by traditional riverine communities," Little said.

Large dams cause multiple impacts

The negative social and environmental impacts of large dams have been acknowledged for many years. The World Commission on Dams reports that large dams are the "main physical threat" to the "degradation of watershed ecosystems" and destroy or restrict rivers' capacities to perform crucial ecosystem services such as providing habitat for fish reproduction, nutrient recycling, water purification, soil replenishment, flood control, and mangroves and wet-lands protection.

Dams also disrupt and destroy communities, displacing between 40 and 80 million people globally. "Whole societies have lost access to natural resources and cultural heritage that were submerged by reservoirs or rivers transformed by dams," the Commission states.

A dam construction team at work. Photo credit: Rocky Contos
A dam construction team at work. Photo credit: Rocky Contos

The potential social impacts of the Marañón mega-dams would be enormous, forcing thousands of people from their homes, land and sources of livelihood. Many of these people include the indigenous Awajuns and Wampis. The destruction of fish migrations and of soil nutrients would harm fishing harvests and the cultivation of crops.

Loss of unstudied biodiversity and a world-class tourist destination

The dams and vast reservoirs would submerge cloud forest, dry forest and lowland Amazon rainforest, and areas extremely rich in biodiversity and high in endemic species. Many of the endemic species -- including mammals, birds, plants, insects, reptiles and amphibians -- haven't been studied by scientists.

German herpetologist Claudia Koch, from the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig, discovered 14 species of reptiles and amphibians new to science in the Marañón valley in just 13 months of research. She told Mongabay.com that it isn't clear how many endemic species would be affected or "lost forever" due to the dams, because not enough is known about the species that have been described, no less the numerous species that remain "undetected."

'The proposed dams for the Marañón would destroy an embryonic tourist industry based on paddling and kayaking.' Photo credit: Rocky Contos
'The proposed dams for the Marañón would destroy an embryonic tourist industry based on paddling and kayaking.' Photo credit: Rocky Contos

"Dams will cause fragmentation and habitat loss of many endemic species with localized ranges, creating barriers for [the sharing of] their genetic pool," said Koch, who named two of her discoveries Ameiva nodam and Ameiva aggerecusans ("reject dam" in Latin) after she learned about Peru's plans. "It's most likely that populations of many of the endemic species will decline in the near future," she said. "We don't know what will be lost if these dams are constructed."

An embryonic tourist industry would also be wrecked. Rocky Contos, a paddling excursion organizer and director of SierraRios, a U.S.-based conservation organization, calls the Marañón the "most precious river" in Latin America and "one of the finest in the world" for rafting and kayaking.

"The Marañón is on a par with the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon but nobody recognized that before I went down it and started publicizing it a few years ago," says Contos, who has dubbed a 550 kilometer (342 mile) stretch of the Marañón "The Grand Canyon of the Amazon." He says building so many dams on the main trunk would be "one of the greatest environmental tragedies in human history."

This newly discovered lizard species (Ameiva aggerecusans) is among 14 species of reptile and amphibian new to science recently found along the Marañón River. Researchers fear that the mega-dams projects will drown a treasure house of biodiversity. Photo credit: Claudia Koch.
This newly discovered lizard species (Ameiva aggerecusans) is among 14 species of reptile and amphibian new to science recently found along the Marañón River. Researchers fear that the mega-dams projects will drown a treasure house of biodiversity. Photo credit: Claudia Koch.

How many dams?

Strange as it may sound, the exact number of dams currently proposed for the main trunk of the Marañón isn't clear -- making environmental and economic impact assessments difficult. The confusion is partly due to muddled policy and a lack of transparency by the Peruvian government, partly due to the fact that some of the studies on which plans are based date back more than 40 years, and partly because of the 2011 law. Some of the dams appear likely to overlap each other, and several appear to have had their names changed.

The 2011 law -- Supreme Decree No. 020-2011-EM -- calls the Marañón River Peru's "Energy Artery" and provides names for each of the 20 proposed dams, along with the amount of electricity each one could generate. These are exactly the same 20 dams identified in a 1970s evaluation of the river's hydroelectric potential:

  • Vizcarra (140 MW)
  • Llata 1 (210 MW)
  • Llata 2 (200 MW)
  • Puchca (140 MW)
  • Yanamayo (160 MW)
  • Pulperia (220 MW)
  • Rupac (300 MW)
  • San Pablo (390 MW)
  • Patas 1 (320 MW)
  • Patas 2 (240 MW)
  • Chusgon (240 MW)
  • Bolivar (290 MW)
  • Balsas (350 MW)
  • Santa Rosa (340 MW)
  • Yangas (330 MW)
  • Pion (350 MW)
  • Cumba (410 MW)
  • Rentema (1,500 MW)
  • Escurrebraga (1,800 MW)
  • Manseriche (4,500 MW)

The 2011 law doesn't include one dam, simply called Marañón, which is already under construction. Nor does it include at least four others -- Veracruz, Chadin 2, Rio Grande 1 and 2 -- which are at different advanced planning stages. All of these would be on the Marañón's main trunk. According to Serra Vega and other Peruvians following the issue, Veracruz has replaced the proposed Cumba 4 dam, and Rio Grande 1 and 2 have replaced the Balsas dam.

Moreover, the 2011 law doesn't include four proposed dams known as Marañón 1, 2, 3 and 4 which, says Serra Vega, would also all be located on the Marañón's main stem roughly between the proposed Patas 1 and Pulperia dams. IR's 2014 report states that the "exact location" of these four dams isn't known, but notes that engineers from the Generalima company were seen in the Patas 2 region in 2013, downriver from Patas 1. According to Serra Vega, Marañón 1 would effectively replace Patas 1, Marañón 2 would replace San Pablo, and Marañón 4 would replace Rupac.

In February 2015, Peru's Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) confirmed that at least three of these dams have what Peruvian law calls "definitive concessions," granted by the government and required for the development of hydro-electric projects generating more than 500 MW. As acknowledged above, one of these, Marañón, is already under construction. According to OSINERGMIN, a government body supervising investment in mining and energy, Marañón was 28 percent built as of March 2015, and scheduled to start operating in December 2016.

The other dams that have "definitive concessions" are Veracruz and Chadin 2. According to MEM, Veracruz is scheduled to be built starting in June 2017 and begin operation in 2022, while Chadin 2 is scheduled to commence construction in March 2016 and operation in 2023. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Veracruz was approved by MEM in 2013, after initially being rejected, and the EIA for Chadin 2 was approved in 2014, following extreme controversy and complaints from local people saying they had suffered intimidation, repression and criminalization of protest.

At least another two of the proposed or planned dams, Rio Grande 1 and 2, have been granted "temporary concessions," which are required to do feasibility studies. The EIA for both dams is currently being written and two rounds of "informative workshops" with local people have been held, with similar complaints emerging of intimidation, repression and criminalization of protest. In addition, Marañón 1, 2, 3 and 4 had "temporary concessions" which have now expired, according to Serra Vega.

The most controversial proposed dams

Easily the most contentious project to date is Chadin 2, which has met with fierce local opposition and would involve flooding numerous villages and displacing more than a thousand people.

'Segundo Vargas Machuka, one of thousands of people who live on the banks of the Marañón whose homes and land would be flooded by the proposed dams.' Photo credit: David Hill
'Segundo Vargas Machuka, one of thousands of people who live on the banks of the Marañón whose homes and land would be flooded by the proposed dams.' Photo credit: David Hill

Eduar Rodas Rojas, president of the Federation of United Rondas Campesinas in Celendin, told Mongabay.com that people are opposed to Chadin 2 because the agriculturally productive Marañón valley would be flooded and fish stocks destroyed, because the intention is to generate energy to supply the highly controversial Conga mining project, because it would change "our cultures and ways of life," and because "it will not bring us development."

"For us the only development is looking after the land and the water," said Rodas Rojas.

By far the biggest of the proposed dams is Manseriche, which could generate up to 7,550 MW, according to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala who offered that information during a presentation to a mining conference in Arequipa, Peru in 2013. Manseriche would impact many thousands of people, mainly indigenous Awajuns and Wampis, and could meet with far greater opposition than even Chadin 2.

In its 2014 report, IR estimated that the area flooded by a Manseriche dam generating just 4,500 MW could be 5,470 square kilometers (2,112 square miles), and its reservoir could drown an entire town and extend across the border into Ecuador. A 7,550 MW mega-dam would need to be even bigger.

Some of the spectacular scenery found along the Marañón River. Photo credit: David Hill.
Some of the spectacular scenery found along the Marañón River. Photo credit: David Hill.

Almost every Awajun and Wampis man or woman interviewed by Mongabay.com said they were opposed to, or seriously concerned about, the proposed dam at Manseriche. Some Awajuns said it could lead to conflict or a second "Baguazo," the name given to the initially peaceful protest by thousands of Awajuns and Wampis near a town called Bagua in 2009. Things turned violent there after riot police opened fire on the protesters. More than 30 people were killed, including over 20 policemen, and more than 200 injured.

"If they try to dam Manseriche and send in the army, we would be prepared to give our lives in defense of our forest," said Edgardo Aushuqui Taqui, former vice-president of the Aguaruna Domingush Federation, an organization representing Awajun communities immediately upriver from Manseriche. "We are not going to allow this to happen. This will be a second Bagua for us."

Energy for the people or for mining companies?

As mentioned earlier, the intention of the Marañón dams as stated in the 2011 law is to meet "national demand," but many Peruvians familiar with the dam projects believe that they have far more to do with supplying electricity to mining companies operating in Peru, and possibly creating an export market.

The bridge at Balsas, near a proposed dam site. Photo credit: David Hill.
The bridge at Balsas, near a proposed dam site. Photo credit: David Hill.

Romina Rivera Bravo, from the Lima-based civil society organization Forum Solidaridad Peru, told Mongabay.com that MEM initially considered exporting energy generated by the Marañón dams to neighboring countries, particularly Brazil, but that has now changed.

"After the scrapping [in 2014] of the Peru-Brazil energy agreement [signed in 2010], it's known that the majority of the projects will feed into the National Interconnected Electricity System (SEIN) to meet internal demand which will benefit, among others, the extractive industries, particularly mining," says Rivera Bravo. "But the possibility of exporting to countries such as Chile has not been abandoned."

President Humala explicitly made the connection between the proposed Marañón dams and mining at the Arequipa conference in 2013. He presented a map showing numerous copper and gold extraction projects in northern Peru along with several of the proposed dams: Manseriche, Rentema, Chadin 2, Cumba 4 (which is now Veracruz), and Balsas (now Rio Grande 1 and 2).

"With this map we can see how we can generate around mining a center of territorial development in the northern macro-region," Humala told conference attendees. "As we can see, gold and copper projects dominate this zone, which includes Piura, Lambayeque, Cajamarca and Trujillo. In order to operate, they need energy, and for that the construction of at least five hydroelectric power stations generating more than 10,000 MW is envisioned."

Some Peruvians following the issue connect at least one of the dams to specific mining projects. Rodas Rojas, from the Rondas Campesinas, told Mongabay.com that energy from Chadin 2 is intended to power the "big grinding mills to be installed at Conga," the highly controversial proposed expansion of the much-condemned Yanacocha mine run by the U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation. Newmont's partners are Peru's Minas Buenaventura and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation, which provided funds for initial construction and expansion and has a 5 percent stake. According to Lynda Sullivan, an Irish journalist based in Cajamarca, some of the personnel involved in promoting Chadin 2 and now Rio Grande 1 and 2, are former Yanacocha employees.

These rice fields upriver from the proposed Pongo de Rentema dam would be inundated by its reservoir. Photo credit: David Hill.
These rice fields upriver from the proposed Pongo de Rentema dam would be inundated by its reservoir. Photo credit: David Hill.

Almost all of the proposed dams under "definitive" and "temporary concessions" are controlled by foreign companies. Rio Grande 1 and 2 are under the direction of Odebrecht Energy Peru, a subsidiary of the giant Brazilian group Odebrecht, while Chadin 2 is under the auspices of AC Energy, another Odebrecht subsidiary. Veracruz is operated by the Compania Energetica Veracruz, a subsidiary of Chile's Enersis, which is controlled by Spain's Endesa, which is in turn controlled by Italy's Enel, according to BN Americas. Maranon 1, 2, 3 and 4 are all under the direction of Generalima, another En-ersis/Endesa/Enel subsidiary.

Killing the Marañón with dams?

The 20 dams proposed by the 2011 law, and the others under construction or in advanced planning stages described in this article, are all on the Marañón's main trunk. For the Marañón Basin as a whole, including tributaries, the total number of proposed dams is much greater. According to a 2012 research paper by U.S. scientists Clinton Jenkins, with the Brazilian NGO Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas, and Matt Finer, now with the U.S.-based Amazon Conservation Association, the total is 39 dams, but that doesn't include Rio Grande 1 and 2, nor Marañón 1, 2, 3 and 4, nor Vizcarra.

IR's 2014 report highlighted the government's serious failure to inform people about the proposed dams on the Marañón. "[T]echnical information… and the potential reservoir inundation extent of most of the projects has not been made available to the public," IR concluded. "This lack of transparency is unacceptable, given the dramatic impacts these projects will have to local people as well as downstream ecosystems and livelihoods that currently depend on a healthy and free-flowing Marañón River."


For more details on some of the planned or proposed dams named here -- Chadin 2, Rio Grande 1, Rio Grande 2, Manseriche, Escurrebraga and Rentema -- see forthcoming Mongabay.com articles by David Hill.

 

This article was produced under Mongabay.org's Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program and can be re-published on your web site or in your magazine, newsletter, or newspaper under these terms.
 
David Hill
May 11, 2015

 
A mural in the town of Celendin opposing the proposed Conga mine. Many people believe dams like Chadin 2 and Rio Grande 1 and 2 are intended to supply electricity to mines such as Conga. Credit: David HillA mural in the town of Celendín opposing the proposed Conga mine. Many people believe dams like Chadín 2 and Rio Grande 1 and 2 are intended to supply electricity to mines such as Conga. Photo credit: David Hill
 
This article was produced under Mongabay.org's Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program and can be re-published on your web site or in your magazine, newsletter, or newspaper under these terms.

OTHER REPORTING BY DAVID HILL
Peru's mega-dam projects threaten Amazon River source and ecosystem collapse

 

 

 

 

"I don't want to sell my land because I've lived here since I was 17," declared 82 year old María Araujo Silva. "This was where my children were born. I want to die here. That's why I'm not in agreement. I'm not in agreement with the dam."

Araujo Silva is outraged at plans by Peru's government and Brazilian company Odebrecht to build a hydroelectric dam just downriver from her village, Huarac, on the Marañón River. She says it would flood her home, her neighbors and the land where she grows coconuts, oranges, avocados, mangoes, limes, manioc and maize.

"No one around here agrees with it. No one," she told Mongabay.com. "An [Odebrecht] engineer says the reservoir isn't going to flood us, that we don't need to be worried, but I don't believe him."

Araujo Silva shares her mud-brick home with José Chacon Carrascal. He too is against the dam. "They say it'll bring us work, but I already have work in my chacra [small farm]. I don't agree. What would we do?"

An anti-Chadin 2 mural in the nearby town of Celendin. Credit: David Hill
An anti-Chadín 2 mural in the nearby town of Celendín. Photo credit: David Hill

Rio Grande 1 and 2: "no agreement"

Huarac is in the middle Marañón valley – the central section of a 1,700-kilometer (1,056-mile) long, free-flowing river that begins in Peru's Andes and is the main source of the Amazon River.

Declared the country's "Energy Artery" by law in 2011, the government is proposing to build over 20 dams on the Marañón's main trunk, and possibly double that number in the Marañón basin. One dam just downriver from Huarac, Rio Grande 2, and another just upriver, Rio Grande 1, would be two of the first to go ahead. Together they could generate 750 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

Many of Araujo Silva's neighbors feel similarly about the dams. Head downstream, along a windy unpaved road, and you come to the tiny settlement of Saumate where Angelica María Araujo lives alone, cultivating papayas and other crops to support herself and her daughter studying in the nearby town of Celendín. "No one is in agreement," she said. "Where are they going to move us to?"

Araujo Silva's niece, Aurora Araujo Dávila, lives in Celendín but owns several hectares in Huarac where she grows avocados, mangoes, papayas and oranges. "All this would be flooded by Rio Grande," she said. "These were my father's lands. I want to leave them to my children. Local people say they're not going to let the company in."

Of course, not everyone objects. Manuel Briones Perez, who says he has worked for Odebrecht, is in favor of the dams, like "many people", like the "majority" of landowners. The project will bring benefits, he claims, including 8,000 jobs, education, reforestation and better roads. "Why wouldn't we be in favor? Here we're forgotten. The state doesn't reach here," he said.

Map showing the proposed locations of the Rio Grande 1 and 2 dams and the area that would be flooded. Credit: Odebrecht/Amec (Peru) S.A.
Map showing the proposed locations of the Rio Grande 1 and 2 dams and the area that would be flooded. Credit: Odebrecht/Amec (Peru) S.A.

Odebrecht: Short on information, long on rumor

Confusion about Rio Grande 1 and 2 is rife. Some people interviewed by Mongabay.com claimed to know details, like where the dams would be built and how high they would be, although those details varied from person to person. Others appeared to know little or nothing, or are confused by contradictory or changing facts.

"There's no clear information," said Victor Vargas Machuko, from Palenque, located at Kilometer 17 on the road running upstream from a village called Balsas. "They're misleading us. The engineer Cesar [Gonzales, from Odebrecht] said it would be flooded between Kilometer 5 and Kilometer 16 -- then Kilometer 18. Then the company said the dam would be 50 meters high, then 60, and the second dam would be 120 meters high, then a maximum of 130, but then it changed to 165."

According to María Chavez Mendina, another Palenque resident, 50 percent of local people are in favor of the dams, 50 percent against.

"But there's no type of information," she said, "People just say we'll be relocated. What we want is information from the company. Clear information. That's what we're asking for."

In search of the truth

A "temporary concession" for Rio Grande 1 and 2 was granted by Peru's government to Odebrecht Energy Peru, a subsidiary of the giant Brazilian Odebrecht Group, in November 2014. That gave the company the green light to do feasibility studies for both proposed dams.

What was initially an anti-Chadin 2 message in the surrounding countryside. The 'No' has since been rubbed out and replaced with 'Yes.' Credit: David Hill
What was initially an anti-Chadín 2 message in the surrounding countryside. The 'No' has since been rubbed out and replaced with 'Yes.' Photo credit: David Hill

The concession area runs for approximately 60 kilometers (37 miles) north to south, across the Amazonas, Cajamarca and La Libertad regions. It includes portions of Celendín, San Marcos and Cajabamba provinces, and numerous districts such as Utco, Jorge Chavez and Oxamarca.

Amec (Peru) S.A., a subsidiary of the United Kingdom-registered Amec Foster Wheeler, has been contracted by Odebrecht to write an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the dams. The EIA must be approved by Peru's Energy Ministry (MEM) before construction begins.

Odebrecht has held two rounds of community meetings as part of the EIA process, but people interviewed by Mongabay.com were fiercely critical. They said the company has sabotaged meetings in various ways -- by choosing days when many people couldn't attend, by unmooring boats so others couldn't travel, and by repeatedly failing to turn up at scheduled times and places.

Interviewees also said that some meeting participants voicing concerns about the dams have been insulted, intimidated and silenced. According to several sources, there was violent conflict at a meeting in one settlement, Jecumbuy, in March.

"There are people who are in favor who insult us. Those in favor insult those who aren't [in favor]," said Vargas Machuka.

An mural in the town of Celendin opposing the proposed Conga mine. Many people believe dams like Chadin 2 and Rio Grande 1 and 2 are intended to supply electricity to mines such as Conga. Credit: David Hill
A mural in the town of Celendín opposing the proposed Conga mine. Many people believe dams like Chadín 2 and Rio Grande 1 and 2 are intended to supply electricity to mines such as Conga. Photo credit: David Hill

Community meetings: "80 percent are from elsewhere"

Arguably the most serious allegation against Odebrecht is that it loaded the community meetings with people who live elsewhere. Some Mongabay.com interviewees said that this was to give the impression that many people support the dams.

"They bring [them] from other places, but [those people] have nothing to do with it," said a woman from Huanabamba, a village adjacent to Huarac, who didn't want to give her name. "They're not us. They don't own land here. They're the ones in agreement, but they don't have anything to do with here."

Some people claim that these outsiders are paid to attend the meetings, or that they work for Odebrecht or mining companies who stand to benefit from the electricity generated by the dams.

Eduar Rodas Rojas, president of the Federation of United Rondas Campesinas in Celendín, which would be impacted by both Rio Grande 1 and 2, called the outsiders "bought people."

"They photograph them," said Rodas Rojas. "They're from elsewhere. With these photos, they trick the government into thinking local communities agree."

The middle Marañón valley. Credit: David Hill
The middle Marañón valley. Photo credit: David Hill

Lidman Chavez Pajares, president of the Front for the Environmental Defense of Oxamarca in Celendín, said that Odebrecht has also tried to trick the government by collecting "fraudulent" signatures at the meetings "to make it look like lots of people attend." He claims that some of the people signing at the meetings work for Gold Fields, a South African company running the Cerro Corona mine in Cajamarca, and Yanacocha, which runs the much-condemned Yanacocha mine and is made up of the U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation, Peru's Minas Buenaventura and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation

"But 80 percent are from elsewhere," Chavez Pajares asserted.

Socorro Quiroz Rocha, from the Association for the Defense of Life and the Environment (ADEVIMA), agreed with that assessment. She said that approximately 80 percent of the people who attended meetings in Limon, Utco, Jorge Chavez, Oxamarca, Huanabamba, Jecumbuy and Balsas were outsiders, with some coming from as far as 200 kilometers (124 miles) away.

Others put that percentage even higher. One man from Huanabamba who didn't want to give his name told Mongabay.com that at one meeting 90 percent were outsiders. "They don't let the people from here speak," he said. They only let the people from outside speak."

According to one attendee at the March meeting in Balsas, just downriver from the Rio Grande 2 site, it was "almost entirely people from outside."

Asked for its response to these accusations, Odebrecht emailed Mongabay.com that there "would be no reason to bring participants from other regions" and it is not a "practice of our organization."

Dam opposition is also being muted in other ways. Some people are afraid to "speak openly" because they say they've been threatened, and at least two men, Absalon Martes Velasquez and Nazario Chavez Tirado, face criminal charges.

Dams like Chadin 2 and Rio Grande 1 and 2 would flood extensive agricultural areas where fruits such as papayas are cultivated. Credit: David Hill
Dams like Chadín 2 and Rio Grande 1 and 2 would flood extensive agricultural areas where fruits such as papayas are cultivated. Photo credit: David Hill

"This is about criminalizing protest when they are simply exercising their rights," said Quiroz Rocha.

"The aim is to intimidate people, to scare them," Chavez Pajares said, "so they don't continue with the struggle."

Rio Grande = major negative impacts

At a meeting in Huanabamba in November, Odebrecht's Cesar Gonzales said that the Rio Grande 1 dam would be 150 meters (492 feet) high and flood 38 square kilometers (14 square miles), while Rio Grande 2 would be 50 meters (164 feet) high and flood 6 square kilometers (2 square miles), according to ADEVIMA's Quiroz Rocha. Asked by Mongabay.com to confirm which areas would be flooded, the company sent a map showing that the entire river and valley from the site of Rio Grande 2 upriver -- almost the length of the whole concession -- would be underwater.

That, said Chavez Pajares, would flood "large extensions" of forests and valleys producing avocados, bananas, oranges and coconuts, among many other crops. "We don't know exactly how much [land would be flooded] because no studies have been done," he said, "but it would be more than 3,000 hectares (7,413 acres) of dry forest."

Cesar Chavez from Tupen village, which would be flooded by Chadin 2. Credit: Rocky Contos
Cesar Chavez from Tupen village, which would be flooded by Chadín 2. Photo credit: Rocky Contos

Chavez Pajares said the impact on the Marañón River itself would be disastrous, "killing" fish stocks and stopping nutrient-rich sediment moving downriver. In addition, flooding would drive many unique, endemic species extinct and the stagnant waters of the reservoir would also generate methane gas "20 times more contaminating than carbon dioxide," contributing to climate change.

"Our position is the following: no to the dams because they'll destroy our valleys, threaten our identity and culture, contaminate, and supply mining companies," Chavez Pajares said. "There are other ways to generate energy: small hydroelectric projects, solar and thermal energy."

Chadín 2

Rio Grande 1 and 2 are far from the most contentious of the proposed dams for the Marañón, nor the most advanced.

Just downriver from Rio Grande 2, beyond Balsas, is the site for a proposed dam called Chadín 2 and, just downriver again, is the proposed site for Veracruz. Both have "definite concessions" required for the development of hydroelectric projects generating more than 500 MW, and their EIAs have been approved by MEM.

Local resident Angelica Maria Araujo: 'No one is in agreement. Where are they going to move us to?' Credit: David Hill
Local resident Angelica María Araujo in Saumate: 'No one is in agreement. Where are they going to move us to?' Photo credit: David Hill

Chadín 2 is expected to generate 600 MW and has met with fierce opposition from local communities and elsewhere in Peru, as MEM itself has acknowledged, as well as internationally.

Like Rio Grande 1 and 2, the operating company, AC Energía, is an Odebrecht subsidiary, and Amec (Peru) S.A. wrote the EIA. The concession area includes parts of the Amazonas and Cajamarca regions, and the Celendín, Chachapoyas and Luya provinces. According to the EIA, the dam would be 175 meters (574 feet) high and flood 32.5 square kilometers (12.5 square miles).

"Stagnant lakes" from the Andes to the Amazon

The potential impacts of Chadín 2 are similar to Rio Grande 1 and 2, but arguably more numerous and more serious. Extensive croplands and over 20 villages would be flooded, and more than one thousand people forced to abandon their homes, land and sources of livelihood. Many more villages and people would be impacted indirectly.

In addition, as Peruvian engineer José Serra Vega noted in a cost-benefit analysis written for the Lima-based civil society organization Forum Solidaridad Peru, Chadín 2 would mean deforesting 12,000 hectares (29,652 acres), emitting greenhouse gases, and causing "biodiversity loss and the severe alteration of the aquatic systems, with the interruption of the flow of river sediments and the death of fauna and flora."

The dam would also flood pre-Hispanic archaeological ruins and destroy an embryonic tourist industry based on paddling and kayaking, which has led to a 550 kilometer (342 mile) stretch of the Marañón being dubbed "The Grand Canyon of the Amazon."

Benjamin Webb, founder of Paddling with Purpose, an international organization coordinating with local NGOs, said Chadín 2 will impact the section of the Marañón "most similar to the Grand Canyon of Colorado."

"Once you cut the flow, you cut the opportunity to have a long, uninterrupted river journey which is what makes this place so special," Webb said. "If the other dams are built, there will essentially be no river left to paddle, only a series of stagnant lakes from the Andes to the Amazon."

"Totally rejected"

Opposition to Chadín 2 has been growing since 2012. Local defense fronts and alliances have been formed, public statements made, meetings and protests held, a petition and campaigns launched, media alerted, and reports published, with organizations such as Forum Solidaridad Peru, Cooperación and the Cajamarca-based Grufides involved.

On the walls of houses that would be flooded, and in nearby Celendín, Cajamarca and the surrounding countryside, painted murals and messages have appeared declaring "No to Chadín 2" and "Marañón River without Dams."

Local resident Maria Araujo Silva: 'This was where my children were born. I want to die here.' Credit: David Hill
Local resident María Araujo Silva in Huarac: 'This was where my children were born. I want to die here.' Photo credit: David Hill

In late March, the Front for the Defense of the River Marañón (FDRM) issued a statement that Chadín 2 "is totally rejected by landowners in the Marañón valley", calling it a "criminal project" that would put lives at risk. "We're not going to sell our lands for neither gold nor silver," it stated.

Rodas Rojas, from the Rondas Campesinas, told Mongabay.com that "every base and community" rejects Chadín 2. He said this is because the Marañón valley's crops and fish stocks would be flooded, because the intention is to generate energy to supply the controversial Conga mining project run by Yanacocha, because it would change "our cultures and ways of life," and because "it will not bring us development."

"For us the only development is looking after the land and the water," said Rodas Rojas.

According to the Plataforma Interinstitucional Celendina (PIC), a coalition of 40 grassroots organizations, between 90 and 95 percent of the region is opposed to Chadín 2. That could be even higher in some areas, said Benjamin Webb, after visiting Balsas and other potentially impacted villages such as Tupén and Mendán this March.

"We interviewed many local people to find out what their thoughts are," Webb said. "We went in hoping to get a balanced set of interviews, representing both sides, for and against the projects. This proved to be impossible. Almost everyone in these communities is opposed."

The middle Marañón valley. Credit: David Hill
The middle Marañón valley. Photo credit: David Hill

In Tupén, Dionisia Huamán told Webb that "they came here and said they wanted to flood our valleys and build a dam on the Marañón. We were really concerned about that. We really love our river."

In Balsas, Jeyson Tirado complained that "people here don't want to know anything about Chadín. It will affect their zone, their lands and animals."

In Mendán, Juan Peña responded with outrage: "they treat us as ignorant just because we're against Chadín 2. We're not against them. They just have to respect our properties, our rights."

Criticisms of Chadín 2's EIA process are similar to those emerging for Rio Grande 1 and 2. These again include Odebrecht bringing outsiders to meetings, and the criminalization of protest. More than 60 people are being "investigated or prosecuted criminally for questioning the legitimacy" of the project, according to a report by U.S.-based NGO Earthrights International.

"We're being denounced and persecuted for defending the water, our lands, our cultures, and our rights," Rodas Rojas told Mongabay.com.

Other criticisms include people being threatened, Odebrecht spreading misinformation about the project, and police attending meetings and barring access to some people.

Will Chadín 2 go forward?

In an email to Mongabay.com, Odebrecht wrote that it is currently "finishing technical and socio-environmental studies" at Chadín 2, and, according to MEM, construction will start next year.

However, many local people say Odebrecht can't currently enter the region. When a team from Peruvian TV program Cuarto Poder visited last year and "found no one in favor of Chadín 2", they caught three Odebrecht representatives on camera who had just been detained by local people.

"The project can't go ahead as long as we decide not to sell our lands," reads the FDRM's March statement. "We don't accept entry by the company or its operators."

Local resident Victor Vargas Machuko: 'There's no clear information [about the proposed dams].' Credit: David Hill
Local resident Victor Vargas Machuko in Palenque: 'There's no clear information [about the proposed dams].' Photo credit: David Hill

Peruvian engineer Serra Vega now questions whether the proposed Marañón dams will proceed as scheduled, given current economic conditions in Peru, the huge amount of private investment required, and a possible reduction in medium-term domestic electricity demand. That is to say nothing of, in Chadín 2's case, the "very strong problems" Odebrecht has with local people.

In addition, Serra Vega notes the "mysterious" absence of both Chadín 2 and Veracruz from an electricity sector presentation in March showing long-term expansion of hydropower in Peru. Both dams featured in a similar presentation the year before.

"What it could mean is that these projects are going to be delayed," he told Mongabay.com.

That possibility could bring some hope to Marañón valley residents whose homes are threatened by the Rio Grande dams or Chadín 2. "Whether we're flooded or not, my idea is that they'll force us to leave here," says Edith Ortiz, a schoolteacher in Huanabamba. "What will we do?"

 
This article was produced under Mongabay.org's Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program and can be re-published on your web site or in your magazine, newsletter, or newspaper under these terms.
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