Chileans protest hydroelectric dam development in Patagonia.

Chileans protest hydroelectric dam development in Patagonia.

A massive project of several dams on two rivers and costing $3.2 billion has been approved by Chilean government in May this year. The future site of this project is no other than pristine southern Patagonia, a region of South America known for its rugged beauty and vast wilderness. It is also dear to Chileans and Argentines alike and a source of national pride. The land of lakes, glaciers, fjords and high mountains is now in danger of being developed and forever changed in pursuit of additional sources of energy in this fast growing country.

There is scarcity of oil and natural gas in Chile and the government has been looking into alternatives. The project named HidroAysen, is a joint venture of Chile, Spain and Italy. 30,000 Chileans took to the streets of Santiago in protest of the development carrying slogans such as “Patagonia without dams”. Since the approval of the project in May, over 70% of Chileans oppose this project. Critics of the project would like to see the government pursue solar, wind and geothermal alternatives. A special Citizen’s Commission in the province of Aysen has been formed to not only look into and generate the alternatives but provide an oversight and opposing view of the project. The government however defends its stand as necessary for the country where energy source is scarce, nuclear power is not safe due to its earthquake history and alternative energies are not sufficiently developed yet. The project is scheduled to start in 2013 and finished by 2025.

For anyone who has ever traveled to the southern reaches of Chile and Argentina and experienced the spectacular beauty of Patagonia the image of flooded valleys and dams is disturbing. The emerging controversy and popular dissatisfaction with the project has at least created an organized opposition for what may be a long battle to leave Patagonia without scars.

Sadly, our wilderness on this planet is shrinking and we may see more of these kinds of projects.

Before it’s too late let’s travel, take pictures and experience the glory of this special corner of the world.

Happy trails!

Lago Grey, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

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