Cautious optimism over Endesa decision to renounce water rights on Futaleufu and Puelo rivers

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Puelo River. Photo: Jimmy LangmanPuelo River. Photo: Jimmy Langman
Two of the leading groups fighting hydroelectric dam projects in Chilean Patagonia, Futaleufú Riverkeeper and Puelo Patagonia, reacted with cautious optimism to news yesterday that Chilean energy company Endesa Chile has decided to voluntarily renounce its water rights along the Futaleufu and Puelo rivers.
In a Aug. 31 press release, Futaleufú Riverkeeper executive director Rocío González called Endesa's surprising move a victory for everyone who lives near the Futaleufu River in the Palena province of Chile. “We now call upon the government and policymakers to listen to the people and agree that our rivers are important enough to protect permanently,” she declared. 
Patrick Lynch, an environmental attorney and international director of Futaleufu Riverkeeper, a member of the global network Waterkeeper Alliance and created in 2012, stated that the group will now work to assure that the water rights in strategic areas of the Futaleufu River Valley are permanently kept in the hands of locals and conservation measures enacted to protect the river for the long-term. Said Lynch: “What I think we need now is a public call for water code reforms needed to put an end to the privatization of water rights. In that sense the move has given us a common point around which we can rally."
Futaleufú River. Photo: Jakub SedivyFutaleufú River. Photo: Jakub SedivyKayaking at the Futaleufú River. Photo: Jakub SedivyKayaking at the Futaleufú River. Photo: Jakub Sedivy
Puelo Patagonia, which leads the environmental campaign “Puelo Sin Torres” (Puelo Without Towers), also celebrated the decision of the local affiliate of Spanish-Italian energy giant Enel Group. The group said that Mediterranean S.A., the other company that currently threatens the watershed of the Puelo and Cochamó rivers in the Los Lagos region of southern Chile, should now follow Endesa's example. Their project, which was approved by Chile’s regional environmental authorities last year, includes the installation of a hydroelectric power station on the confluence of Torrentoso and Manso rivers and a 60-kilometer electric line in the Puelo area that would utilize 203 transmission towers more than 38-meters high.  
“The message Endesa is signaling to us with their renunciation of its water rights on the Puelo River is also a direct message to Mediterranean. Non-conventional renewable energy is now the future for Chile and the prices for such energy continues in fast decline. Meantime, the big hydroelectric dam projects are not profitable and they face fierce opposition from the community. With the current scenario, the owners of Mediterranean have much more to lose than to win,” commented Rodrigo Condeza, president of Puelo Patagonia.
Endesa Chile has given up its water rights associated with six hydroelectric projects on five rivers. Along with the Futaleufú (1,330 MW) and Puelo (750 MW) rivers, they are also shelving plans for dams at the Cautín River (14 MW), Chillán River (17 MW) and Huechún River (40 MW).  "Endesa Chile wants to only move forward on projects that are technically and economically viable and that are embraced by the local communities," said Endesa Chile chief executive Valter Moro. "In the case of these projects ... we've concluded that they are not viable and for that reason we are returning the water rights to the state so they can be used for some other type of development," he said in a statement.

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