Photo: Say goodbye to San Rafael Falls, Ecuador? (via listafterlist.com)
Ecuador made waves not too long ago as the first country to not only recognize the constitutional rights of ecosystems, but also for demanding money in exchange to not drill into their rich oil reserves -- located under their equally-rich rainforests.
Now, the cash-strapped South American nation is courting controversy again as it plans to go ahead with a Chinese-financed hydroelectric project that could dry up San Rafael Falls, the country's highest waterfall.
Mongobay reports that according to environmental organization Save America's Forests, the 1,500 megawatt Coca-Codo Sinclair Hydroelectric Project -- the largest of its kind in Ecuador -- will negatively impact the Sumaco Biosphere Reserve, which sits in the biodiverse transition zone between the Andes and Amazon. San Rafael Falls itself is a major draw for ecotourism in the region.
"Business as usual"
Ironically, the $1.7 billion hydroelectric deal with the Export-Import Bank of China comes after the Ecuadorean government decided to legally recognize the rights of nature, and to preserve another national park, the Yasuni Reserve, from oil drilling last year.
"So basically you have the first country in the world that legally respects nature, and they are about to destroy their greatest waterfall," says Matt Finer of SAF. "While we applaud and support Ecuador's revolutionary initiative to leave oil reserves under the Amazon, this hydroelectric project is just a step back to business as usual."
The dam is slated for completion in 2016. Meanwhile, environmentalists point out that Ecuador's energy needs could be better supplied by alternative hydroelectric and geothermal projects that are also underway.
Capacity has been exaggerated
In addition, there are concerns that there's not enough study being done into the overall environmental impacts, and that the dam itself is designed for higher flow rates than the actual, in order that the dam look economically better on paper. The Asia Times reports:
"The installed capacity projected by the government has been exaggerated and does not have a sound technical basis," Jesus Jativa, who holds a PhD in electrical engineering, told Inter Press Service (IPS). [..]
"The pre-feasibility study completed by the Italian firm Electroconsul in 2008," which served as the basis for the government to report a projected potential of 1,500 MW, "is not based on hydrological studies," Jativa said. [..]
Jativa said the method of calculation used was theoretical: "In order to project $153 million in fossil fuel savings between 2016 and 2020, the installed capacity has been raised, as if the water flow rate in the Coca river could be increased by decree.
"That difference of 36,000 liters per second is an invention, because there are no studies showing that, and the minimum ecological flow required to keep the river alive would be compromised," Jativa said. "The economic explanation is neither technically nor environmentally sound."