Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Threats churn in the San Juan River

José Adán Silva in IPS via Tierramérica: The San Juan River, centre of discord and diplomatic conflicts between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, is seeing its riverbanks fill up with economic projects that scientists and environmentalists say will irreversibly alter its course. According to biologist Salvador Montenegro, director of Nicaragua's Centre for Aquatic Resource Investigation, a hydroelectric project agreed between the governments of Brazil and Nicaragua in 2007 would seriously harm the biodiversity of the San Juan and the nature reserves in the surrounding areas.

Montenegro said the planned Brito Hydroelectric project (Hidrobrito SA) would require a dam 10 metres high and 400 metres wide to achieve the water level necessary, and would reverse the natural draining of Lake Cocibolca (also known as Lake Nicaragua) to the Caribbean, sending it instead towards the Pacific Ocean.

The project is still going through studies, but would be built in 2015, has a price tag of more than 900 million dollars and, according to Nicaragua's ministries of Energy and Environment, would generate 250 megawatts of electricity.

In Montenegro's view, the damage to the plant and animal species of the San Juan would be "catastrophic." The dam would affect the biodiversity of the lake and the rivers, as well as the land, aquatic and marine ecosystems, and the livelihoods of fishers and farmers living in low-lying areas.

With the flow of freshwater to the Pacific, the coastal zone would lose salinity, potentially harming thousands of marine and coral reef species. It would likely affect the migration of endangered sea turtles, which arrive there each year to lay their eggs on the beach refuges of Chacocente and La Flor, in the southern Nicaraguan department of Rivas.

The company in charge of the project, Brazil's Andrade Gutiérrez Construction, acknowledged to the Nicaraguan authorities that there would be environmental damage, and proposed alternatives that the government is now studying….

The San Juan River in Nicaragua, shot by Rodrigo Castillo

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