by Chris Kassar via The Cleanest Line
Every time I kneel down next to a river – even if just for a moment – I swear I can hear it speak to me. I know this probably sounds crazy, but I also know I’m not the only one who hears wise murmurs rising from the ripples of wild waters. For many of us, the rhythm of a river can mesmerize our soul, capture our spirit and force us to really stop and listen.
The Baker River, nestled deep in the mountains of Chilean Patagonia, is no different. I spent weeks walking its banks, riding its waves, and crunching through the epic ice fields that feed it. I even floated over the exact spot where its journey as a river ended and it emptied into the sea – a feat in and of itself given that so many rivers, including my very own Colorado, no longer even make it all the way to the ocean. But, this trip from source to sea was much more than just a fun adventure. We – team Rios Libres – immersed ourselves in the landscape so we could arm ourselves with the knowledge needed to join the fight to protect Patagonia’s wildlands and the people who depend on them.
During our excursion, the mighty Baker spoke volumes and gave us a glimpse into what the world used to be like – full of untamed lands, untouched rivers, intact forests and people who depended on the land and each other to survive. Spending a month at the edge of the world was like traveling back in time to an age when things were simpler and nature remained largely unaltered by the trappings of man.
Unfortunately, the experience we had may not be available for future generations unless we raise our voices and speak for the river. Huge walls of concrete threaten to choke the furious turquoise flow of Chile’s most voluminous river, the Baker and its rugged sister, the Pascua. If allowed, big business will ruin pristine old-growth forests, destroy the gaucho culture and silence the beautiful sound of these waters only to replace them with the disheartening din of ‘civilization’ – bulldozers, power lines, reservoirs and dams… all to provide power for the destructive mining industry in the north.
But this doesn’t have to happen. Perhaps, if we could just sit and listen more carefully, we might hear the river speak and fully grasp the idea that it is more important to protect the river’s power than harness it. Chile has the opportunity to learn from mistakes made in the past; they can act as a model for the rest of the world by seeking alternatives that allow them to gain energy independence while still maintaining the character of Patagonia.
We’ve written about this in the past and our team made an award-winning film called Power in the Pristine that documented our source-to-sea adventure and highlighted the various threats to the region.
So why are we writing now? We’re writing because this fight is far from over and we need your help in giving this river and its people a voice once again. A lot has happened over the past year and it seems that the wild character of the entire region – which was once endangered – is now closer to extinction than ever before. The following video will catch you up on the issue. We hope it inspires you to read on and to act. The river speaks and so can you!
Synopsis of recent happenings: In May 2011, the government approved the dams. Tens of thousands of Chileans took to the streets in opposition and six weeks later, the Court temporarily halted all construction due to a pending appeal. This was especially significant since the Court was the only Chilean authority to challenge the project since its inception in 2008. However, in October, the Chilean appeals court ruled in favor of the dam project causing the volley to continue as opponents who want to protect this unique environment brought their challenge to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the project still requires a permit for more than 1,250 miles (2,000-km) of transmission line to carry the 2,750 megawatts generated from deep in southern Patagonia to the capital Santiago. Earlier this week (Dec. 5), HidroAysen – the company behind the dam project – released initial plans for the powerline and the environmental analysis will begin in March 2012.
Clearly, the fight to protect Chile’s pristine rivers and wildlands is not over; protests continue and polls show that over 74% of Chileans oppose the dams. This Saturday, December 10, thousands will return to the streets in Coyahique and other cities in Chile to show the government that they oppose this decision. If you cannot make the event in Chile, please show your solidarity by taking action through these groups:
- Rios Libres: Join the ‘virtual march’ to keep Patagonia Wild!
- NRDC: Tell Chile’s President to stop the HidroAysén project from destroying Patagonia (Learn more)
- International Rivers: Demand Democracy for Chile – NO to HidroAysén!
The river speaks and so can you!
For more info go to: www.rioslibres.com.
For 26 years, American Rivers has sounded the alarm on hundreds of rivers through our America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. By shining the spotlight and mobilizing the public to take action, we save rivers from urgent threats like pollution, mining and dams. The report emphasizes solutions to secure a better future for the rivers, their fish and wildlife and communities.
The ten rivers named as America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2011 highlight an issue of urgent concern to all Americans: clean water. It is vital to the health of our families and communities. Sixty-five percent of our drinking water comes from rivers and streams, but many of our rivers are too polluted to use.
America’s Most Endangered Rivers is more than a list. It is a call to action to engage concerned citizens in the fight to protect rivers. With public support, we can directly impact the fate of these rivers and save them for generations to come.
Do your part. Take Action here.
American Rivers campaign America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ works with local partners, elected officials, media groups and concerned citizens to protect rivers through awareness and action. 2010 marked the program’s 25th year of fighting to save our country’s most threatened rivers.
American Rivers’ successes in our river protection and river restoration efforts would not have been possible without the help of our many supporters With your support, we can continue our work on projects such as dam removal, restoring flood plains, conducting river cleanups, ensuring a clean, safe and reliable water supply, and fighting to secure wild and scenic river designations.
For a list of 2010’s America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ and to submit your nominations for 2011, check out http://www.americanrivers.org/our-work/protecting-rivers/endangered-rivers/.
Please take action to Keep Patagonia Wild!
Express your opposition to HidroAysen’s proposal to dam the Baker and Pascua – two pristine rivers deep in the heart of Patagonia, Chile by signing our petition HERE.
Help us get at least 1,000 signatures to let Presidente Pinera know that the international community wants Patagonia to remain pristine and without dams.
The rivers, wildlands and people of Patagonia need your voice!
How can you support Rios Libres and be entered to win an awesome Raptor 6? It’s easy.
Share the petition on Facebook so all your friends can help, too.
Email your contact info to Chris.Kassar@gmail.com, and put “PETITION” in the subject line.
The Salmon River is the longest undammed river in the continental United States. But it wasn’t always that way.
In 1910 Sunbeam dam was erected on the Salmon above its confluence with the Yankee Fork. The dam was built to supply cheap power to gold mining operations along the Yankee Fork. The dam supplied power to stamp mills and dredges for just over a year before the mining operation went bankrupt and closed.
A historical marker adjacent to the river claims that the Idaho Department of Fish & Game contracted demolition of the dam in 1934. However, locals know a different story. Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus wrote in his memoir, “A party or parties unknown ran a dynamite-laden raft into Sunbeam Dam. The dam blocked the annual salmon run. The party or parties unknown were never caught, a fairly unusual circumstance in this thinly populated country. But history was against them.”
Crumbling remains of the dam still cross half the canyon while the river flows freely against the southern bank. Many people consider these remnants a blight on an otherwise pristine river but every time I see the corpse of Sunbeam Dam I smile. The ruins serve as a reminder that Idaho’s salmon are more precious than gold. They’re priceless.
Any Idahoan will tell you that the Salmon River and its namesake salmon runs are two of the things that make Idaho special. I grew up playing and fishing along the banks of the Salmon and now I work for an organization called Idaho Rivers United protecting and restoring Idaho’s rivers and native fish.
I like the story of Sunbeam dam because it offers a lesson from our history and vision forward to the future.
by Chris Kassar
6,170 miles. This is the distance between Flagstaff, Arizona and Puerto Bertrand, Chile — the town closest to the source of the Rio Baker. This creates a formidable gap (the equivalent of driving from Boston to San Diego and back) between where many of us live and the rivers we are fighting to protect. Why then, are five folks from Flagstaff and two from Colorado so damned concerned about a river and a watershed that are so far from home?
The simple answer is this: we believe rivers should flow freely — from source to sea — as nature intended. But, there’s more. We are also motivated by the missteps made in our very own backyard. We live in the shadow of Glen Canyon dam — aka “America’s most regretted environmental mistake” and we constantly grapple with ‘what could have been’ if this place had not been lost. This dam stands as a beacon, reminding us of a past heartbreak and calling us to action in order to prevent others.
The lessons we have learned from the tragedy at Glen Canyon have made many of us in the Southwest unwilling and unable to stand by and allow the same mistakes to be made again, even in remote regions that are thousands of miles away. Despite the geographic distance between where we lay our heads and Patagonia, our connection to these rivers is strong and the need to stand up for them remains close to our hearts.
Recently, a few members of the team re-visited Glen Canyon Dam bringing with them newfound knowledge and experience as a result of our trip in Chile.
Last Saturday, June 5, thousands of people in Chile marked the annual International Day for the Environment (el Día Internacional del Medioambiente) with a nationwide day of action and marched against dams in Patagonia.
This is the second time in less than a year that a nationwide action has been organized against the development of mega-hydroelectric projects in Patagonia.
by Craig Childs
The Río Baker is the color of topaz with the visible depth of sapphire. Entering one of its gorges, a smooth, ceramic lip of water crashes into malestrom. Kayaks flash through like swift, tiny birds. Feeling this wild tumult, you can understand why one might want this kind of power. You would be a god to have this under your control.
Throw a switch and the raw, terrifying force of nature crimps down into cables and transformers — becoming the hum of millions of refrigerators across South America.
Every time you walk into a room and turn on the lights, every familiar tone of an Apple computer coming awake carries a grain of river, a hundredth of a kilowatt of what groups like NRDC and Patagonia Sin Represas wants you to think is sacred.
Kayaks take the run, skating across the water, airborne for moments. This is how you do it without taming the river, without conquering or consuming its power. You become a feather on a current and suddenly the river’s power is at your fingertips.
by Chris Kasaar
Images of the magnificence of Patagonia abound: snow-capped peaks, flowing rivers, pristine forests, indigenous people, beautiful cultural traditions. Visual depictions of this amazing land and the people who call it home are the first thing that you notice when you arrive in this region of Chile – in airports, airplanes, restaurants, cafes, hardware mega-stores, on roadside billboards… Everywhere.
However, despite an obvious national pride for the area, the wild character of Patagonia is at risk. This is why each member of our team of 7, also known as “Rios Libres”, have spent the last few days working our way here from various points on the globe. There’s a proposal to put 5 dams on 2 of Patagonia’s most pristine rivers and we’re down here to do our damndest to create something that will help draw international attention to the issue.
by Craig Childs
This is how we reach the interior of Patagonia: spider-webbed windshield and a blown-out side-view mirror on a Mitsubishi 4×4 van carrying a crest of kayaks. A long and dusty road wanders beneath enormous summits. We come around the corner to find our raft listing badly, a wheel missing from the trailer, axle bent. How many times have you been in this position: foreign country, sitting on the side of a road, things gone awry? It’s how it works. You can only bring so much schedule and expectation into a wild place. Uncapping a bottle of pisco, we each take a shot. It is what must be done.
A flatbed the size of a yacht grinds up the road and Timmy O’neill flags it down. Our entire assemblage soon gets hoisted atop it, tied down, and we are gone again. Small miracles are everywhere. The kindness and openness out here saves us at every turn. I cannot help but think of that same kindness buried under earthquake rubble, families out here who have lost people they love. The memory and dread follows us as word comes of aftershocks and body counts. Lives are so fragile we can do nothing from here but pray.
Still driving that night, we watch the full moon rise through the Andes. The river sings in the river below. Meanwhile, this continent grinds against its neighboring plate. Everything is in motion.
Dawn. I walk through the town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo to where the river meets a broad, blue-eyed lake. The arc of the sky tilts, moon sets into peaks and glaciers. The sun cracks through a high ridge. I think, these simple faces of morning would be the same if dams were here, if this pristine valley were choked with buildings and smoke, but our lives would be changed. Only one god would remain, the small gods of these round, glistening stones, and the loud mumble of the Rio Tranquilo gone.
By sunset, we reach our put-in. The Rio Baker begins.
Osprey Note: Osprey Athlete Timmy O’Neill is in Patagonia, Chile this month with James Q. Martin and company for a descent of the Rio Baker in order to capture the epic beauty and adventure of this ancient Aysen waterway. They are documenting the trip to aid local NGOs in their efforts to prevent the river from being dammed.