Since NRDC launched the Chilean Patagonia BioGem campaign in 2007 to protect the region from a massive hydroelectric complex called HidroAysén, my colleagues and I have blogged repeatedly about the many reasons why the mega-dam proposal should not be built. We and our partners have made the technical, legal, ecological and financial cases against the company’s plan to construct five dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers and a 2000 kilometer-long transmission line. Now, one of the most affecting illustrations of why HidroAysén should be stopped—the irreversible effects it will have on local communities—is beautifully captured in this new short video, “Learning to Paddle,” from filmmaker Weston Boyles, who documents young Chileans in the region learning to kayak on the Baker River.
Their kayaking school, Club Náutico Escualo, is based in the small town of Cochrane, which would be the hub of HidroAysén’s construction and operation. About 800 local kids and teenagers have learned how to pirouette, capsize and take on world-class rapids since the school opened 12 years ago. They are also gaining confidence and a sense of community, and making a connection with their environment. Roberto Haro Contreras, co-Director of the school, says “I believe when the kids are kayaking, they get to know the region, the natural environment; it is very important because it allows them to appreciate the beauty of the region. To be able to work, to study, to grow, and to look after the environment.”
Statements from the students themselves highlight the importance of both the Escualo and the Baker River:
“In the beginning kayaking is complicated…but in time, you feel confident in what you can do.” – Iván Zanzana
“For me kayaking is the best thing that happened to me. It serves to motivate me in school and everything.” – Jamie Lancaster
“Kayaking is really important in Cochrane. One of the most important things to kayaking in Cochrane is paddling on the Baker.” – Jorge Santana
NRDC and our partners have shown that HidroAysén is unnecessary; that the environmental approval process for HidroAysén’s dams was fraught with legal irregularities and shady actions on behalf of authorities; that HidroAyséns environmental impact assessment remains woefully lacking in crucial data about a range of fundamental topics; that HidroAysén would drastically alter the rivers and the surrounding ecosystems near the dams; and that Chile has better energy options for a more sustainable, independent and secure energy future. In addition, if HidroAysén’s mega-dams are built, the young kayakers of Club Náutico Escualo would have no clean, powerful, free-flowing Baker River to kayak on.
Please take fifteen minutes and watch the film, which is one of the most moving examples I have seen of why HidroAysén is simply a bad idea. You can join these kayakers, and the 74 percent of Chileans who are against HidroAysén, by taking action here to ask Chilean President Sebastian Piñera to stop this destructive and unnecessary mega-dam project.