The Puelo River moves a big step closer to being declared a water reserve by Chile

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Rio Puelo watershed. Photo: Jimmy Langman/Patagon JournalRio Puelo watershed. Photo: Jimmy Langman/Patagon Journal
By Caterinna del Rio Giovannini
The Puerto Varas-based conservation group Puelo Patagonia has achieved a major breakthrough in their efforts to convince the government to declare the Puelo River watershed an official “water reserve.” Located in the province of Cochamó, the celebrated river moved a big step closer to long-term protection thanks to the Chilean hydroelectric company Hidroner SpA, which this week committed to returning the equivalent of almost 50 percent of water rights on the river (717.4 m3/s) to the Chilean government.
The Hidroner donation now leaves just two remaining water rights granted in the upper part of the river, which for now blocks the possibility of a water reserve on the entire Puelo River, which extends 120 km long, beginning at Lake Puelo, in the province of Chubut, Argentina, before flowing into the Pacific Ocean at the Reloncavi Estuary in Chile.
“If this water reserve works at Puelo, it will be an important precedent for the Futaleufú River, for the Palena River, and for many other rivers that deserve to be protected just like Puelo,” Rodrigo Condeza, one of the directors of Puelo Patagonia, told Patagon Journal.
The owners of Hidroner – Ricardo and Camilo Ruiz – pledged to donate all the water rights they own on the Puelo, after around 40 local groups asked the intendente (equivalent to a state governor in the United States) of the region for their protection. The water reseve initiative hopes to be carried out by presidential decree, as set out in Article 147a of the Water Code. For Klaus Kosiel, head of the environmental ministry for the Los Lagos Region, the signing of this agreement "will strengthen the development of sustainable activities, ensuring this water resource for present and future generations, as well as the environmental quality of the Puelo River.”
Josefina Vigouroux, executive director of Puelo Patagonia, told Patagon Journal that the agreement "is a breakthrough in the community's quest for several years to protect the river for good. It is important because it is in the best interests of the sustainable development of the region. It is a contribution to the conservation of natural resources and local development. It is also important at the national and global levels because of the water crisis and climate change, reserving a river of these proportions is without a doubt a benefit for everyone.”
Los Lagos regional intendente Harry Jurgensen hopes that "other businessmen, who also have water rights over the same river, will follow this example to see if it is possible that one day very soon we may have a Puelo River reserve for tourism, environmental protection, and the economic development of the entire community."
Alejandro Pérez of the Piren construction company and Cristian Schimtt, a Chilean lawyer and an expert on water rights, are the owners of the remaining water rights on the upper part of the river. "We have made contact with them, we have not had a yes or no response,” adds Rodrigo Condeza of Puelo Patagonia.
“These rights of the lower part, the rights donated by Ricardo and Camilo of Hidroner,” said Condeza, “are conditional that the entire river is set aside as a reserve. Now, the possibility of a water reserve for the whole river is possible if the other water rights holders also donate. Nevertheless, generating a water reserve for half the river is a tremendous advance."