The Citizen Coordination of No Alto Maipo is marching through Chile’s streets, demanding changes to the government’s support for a hydroelectric project which teeters on the edge of a financial crisis and has caused pollution to the country’s natural water resources.
Members of over 20 organizations met in the Plaza Italia on Sunday, rejecting the government’s continued support for the Alto Maipo project, which has continued to pose an environmental threat to Chile's waterways and valleys.
“Alto Maipo hydroelectric is polluting and diverting waterways for more than 70 km, drying valleys and our community and putting at risk again the drinking water supply of the Metropolitan region,” the call to action on the group’s Facebook page read.
Coordinator and spokeswoman Marcela Mella said organizers will push for the end of the project or a reevaluation of the process based on environmental studies to minimize the damage and guarantee its legality.
Since the program’s approval in 2009, Alto Maipo has harnessed 531 MW of power through tapping into lush waterways of the Volcan, Yeso and Colorado rivers. According to the company’s site, the project accesses the water around 6 km upstream and shouldn’t affect Santiago’s drinking water.
However, following an investigation into a number of technical difficulties, it became apparent that the company had utterly failed to comply with Chile’s Environmental Rating Resolution in so far as to endanger the lives and health of its workers and lawsuits ensued.
Alto Maipo has been a firestorm of problems from the start. Shortly after its approval, a congressional commission presented a damning report on the project, laying out a slew of environmental risks, including serious threats to local water supplies, native forests and protected areas in the Cajon del Maipo, such as various nature sanctuaries and the El Morado glacial formation, which is considered a natural monument.
The report highlighted “irreversible degradation of the Maipo river basin” and “destruction of the sub-basins of the Volcan, Yeso and Colorado (rivers) that feed it” as a result of the dam, putting at risk the main source of drinking water for Santiago’s seven million residents. It also pointed to the Cajon de Maipo’s importance as a cultural and ecological asset in the country’s tourism industry — the picturesque area welcomes some 1.6 million tourists every year — and warned of potential adverse effects as a result of Alto Maipo.
Chile, though no stranger to dry spells, suffered its worst drought on record last year after eight consecutive years with a lack of rain. The Alto Maipo project, which environmental groups estimate will reduce the waterways feeding the Maipo River by 60 percent, is expected to worsen the process of desertification already affecting large swatches of the country and could speed up glacial melting in the Andes region.