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Fri Nov 8, 2019, 05:23 PM

Poorly planned Amazon dam project 'poses serious threat to life'

Source: The Guardian

Poorly planned Amazon dam project 'poses serious threat to life'

Operator faces choice of weakening 14km barrier or potentially devastating a biodiversity hotspot

by Jonathan Watts in Belo Monte
Fri 8 Nov 2019 16.00 GMT

The biggest hydroelectric project in the Amazon rainforest has a design flaw that poses a “very serious” threat to human life and globally important ecosystems, according to documents and expert testimony received by the Guardian.

The studies suggest engineers failed to anticipate the impact of water shortages on the Pimental dam at Belo Monte, which has been closed and turned into a barrier. This is forcing the operators to choose between a structural weakening of the 14km-wide compacted-earth barrier and a reallocation of water in the reservoir or on the Xingu river, which is home to indigenous communities, fishing villages and some of the world’s most endangered species.

One analyst said there was risk of a rupture, and even before the report was issued federal prosecutors were preparing to call for the project to be suspended. They also intend to appeal to the Brazilian government for emergency humanitarian aid to support riverine populations that have experienced a devastating decline of fish on which they depend for nutrition and income.

After decades of resistance and 40bn reais (£8bn) of investment, the world’s fourth biggest hydropower plant is due to have the last of its 18 turbines installed this month, but lower-than-forecast water levels in the dam’s reservoirs have created an unforeseen structural problem in addition to longstanding environmental, social and economic concerns.

The Guardian and El País have seen a recent report by Norte Energia which warned that the fall in water levels in recent weeks has exposed a vulnerable section of the Pimental dam wall, which is separate from the barrier housing most of the turbines, to waves that sometimes form during tropical storms or strong winds blowing across the reservoir.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/08/death-of-a-river-the-ruinous-design-flaw-in-a-vast-amazon-rainforest-dam

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