The Rising of Patagonia
Posted by Kyla Woods on Thursday, July 5th, 2012 at 10:31 am
This year is the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, and in conjunction with this, we would like to welcome all to a film preview hosted at Arcosanti. This special screening will take place on July 7th at 7 p.m. at Arcosanti off I-17 north of Phoenix, AZ.
Titled Patagonia Rising, this film is a documentary that was released at the start of May 2011 about the HidroAysén Project in Chile. Directed by Brian Lilla and produced by Greg Miller and Scott Douglas, Patagonia Rising explores Patagonias natural beauty whilst orbiting around the opinions of various parties involved or affected by the projects completion. Arcosanti will, thus, have the pleasure of hosting an exclusive previewing of Patagonia Rising at 7pm on the 7th of July – entry is a free will donation.
English novelist Bruce Chatwin once dared to describe the dramatic landscape of Chilean Patagonia, citing that “[he] could see the river, glinting and sliding through the bone-white cliffs with strips of emerald cultivation either side. Away from the cliffs was the desert. There was no sound but the wind, whirring through thorns and whistling through dead grass, and no other sign of life but a hawk, and a black beetle easing over white stones.”
Though this description is elegantly accurate, travelers are often left astounded by the beauty that encompasses this area – certain regions, like the Aysén Region, are relatively uninhabited and have exceptionally unique ecosystems due to a variety of sub-habitats that can be found.
The Aysén Region is currently at the center of a controversial plan to build five large hydroelectric dams on the two major river systems that run through Patagonia. This venture, known as the HidroAysén Project, plans to harness the energy from the Baker and Pascua River, transporting it North to Santiago.
Considered Chile’s largest river, the Baker River forms a delta. A natural delta usually occurs as a result of a build up of deposition of sediment over long periods of time. This particular delta is recognized as an estuary – it is a partly enclosed body of water with a river flowing through it and also inhabiting a free connection to the open sea. An estuary is perceived as a “transition zone” for oceanic life and the life of the river, consequently, a unique and fragile ecosystem usually inhabits the delta area.
The Pascua River, on the other hand, is quite short in length and is classified as a drainage basin that is connected to the O’Higgins/ San Martin Lake. A drainage basin is an area of land where surface water from rain or melting snow and converges at a single point – basically collecting water and then channeling it to a single point (almost like a funnel).
In order to build these hydroelectric dams along the Baker and Pascua river systems, the HidroAysén Project outlines the necessary flooding of an estimated 14, 579 acres of land located on natural reserves. Along with the construction of the dams, residential areas, amenity buildings and access roads will also need to be assembled for the estimated 5,000 workers that will be required.
It was noted in a study authorized by Tufts University, “dam construction usually leads to a significant decline in the number of species in the area. Effects will reach downstream, since flows will be reduced. Changed sediment loads often reduce water quality and increase erosion… This in turn, lowers groundwater tables, more broadly affecting the area’s ecosystem and harming local vegetation, agriculture, and wells”.
This estimated 3.2 billion dollar project is not without economic justification – Chile has one of the strongest and fastest growing economies of South America. The primary industry that contributes to Chiles stability is the energy intensive copper mining industry, taking up 56% of total exports in 2007, is likely to induce an exponential growth in energy consumption.
The HidroAysen Project is one of many projects around the world that are attempting to address concerns surrounding water usage, responsible harnessing of energy for increasing population whilst enabling economic stability and growth.
Arizona is certainly no stranger to unique disputes regarding water – if you would like to learn more about Arizona water issues check out our Water – Use It Wisely page that includes local links and resources for the Layperson’s Guide to Arizona Water.
For any further information regarding this subject, please have a look at the following links:
From time to time, Water – Use It Wisely features guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. Kyla Woods is a journalist/ architect from Melbourne, Australia – currently residing at Arcosanti, Mayer, AZ.