RIO SAMANA, COLOMBIA

 

 

Hydroelectric power already generates over 70% of Colombia’s electricity and dams both large and small dot the landscape throughout the country. Construction is currently underway on a host of new projects, including several controversial mega-dams that have faced a backlash from affected communities and generated extensive ecological concerns. The $.5.5 billion Hidroituango dam in Antioquia is the largest and is projected to supply around 25% of Colombia’s energy (5th largest in South America). In the department of Huila, construction of the El Quimbo dam marked the beginning of the privatization of the Rio Magdalena (El Quimbo and the other 6 dam underway on the Magdalena are privately owned). Just el Quimbo should produce 8% of Colombia needs. Hidrosogamos, which just flooded 7000 hectares of Grand Canyon-like landscape, and despite of responding for around 8% of Colombia's demand, is already a social and economical disaster.

 

If 70% of Colombia's electricity is already coming from hydro, and hidroituango adds 25%, El quimbo 8%, Hidrosogamoso 8%, we are already above 100%...Then why are large and small dams increasingly dotting the landscape throughout the country?

 

Well, the leopard cannot hide its spots, Colombia topography and climate makes hydroelectricity very profitable and therefore attracts private producers aiming to export to foreign industry or power the recent new “Gold & Oil rush”… Many of the next generation of dams are if fact not looking to meet the country’s energy needs, they are also looking to capitalize on the growing carbon trading market. Despite increasing concerns over whether large hydroelectric dams can be considered “clean” energy due to methane emissions from reservoir surfaces and the many other ecological impacts. Also hydroelectric projects still make up a large part of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – the UN’s carbon trading scheme. The controversial scheme allows polluters in industrialized countries to purchase carbon credits from emissions reduction projects in the developing world in order to meet their Kyoto Protocol targets. In Colombia, eight hydroelectric projects have already been approved for the CDM, while 12 hope to be, including Hidrosogamoso and Quimbo.

 

 

In this scenario, very few big rivers in Colombia remain free flowing. Colombia microclimate and fine meteorology is suffering from it. Many unique ecosystems are falling to the hands of development projects or deforestation and climate change is strongly affecting the most delicate species. Few preserve place remains, the Samana canyon is one of them.

Taking its sources high up on the western slope of the middle cordillera, she gathers the water of many small tributaries before becoming the Samana, a big, powerful and unpredictable river. If the drive from Medellín to the put-in is breathtaking, it's once in the canyon that the true face of the Samana is exposed. World class big water class 4 rapids are packed with playspots and fun moves, and if you lift your eyes, you'll see walls of green jungle cascading to water level. The low granite walls have been carved by millions of years of erosion and the forest hides a biodiversity rarely equalled. Near the end, a magnificent last gorge offers stronger paddlers Zambezi-size rapids, often super sized by the discharge from the nearby hydro facility of “ San Carlos” Increasing the flow up to 10 times when producing electricity.

 

Proyecto porvenir 2

Projecto porvenir 2 is planning to erect a 190 M concrete arch dam 2/3 of the way down the run, with a reservoir of 1.825 hectares and an installed capacity of 352 MW. From a kayaker perspective, the project will flood 80 % of whitewater. Fortunately, the lower gorge (class 5 ) will remains. This section might become extremely hard and quick changes in water levels are to be expected as both installation (San Carlos and Samana) will discharges right above it. (see drawing )

Damming the Samana is a fairly recent ideas,mostly because dam builders having being kept busy by the enormous potential for hydro in the region. The process was started a few decades ago by public company EPM and mix Private/public ISAGEN, witch installed most of the tributaries of the Samana Today, Celestial, a private company from the Argos group signed an 700 million dollars contract on the lower Samana .

 

In 2013, the company applied for the environmental license, which was refused and sent back For revision because of the Nonexistence of studies on the ecosystem, fauna, flora and fish population  along side of a neglected social impact study. Celestia specializes in Hydro power, but Argos's specialize in concrete,They also happen to have one of their biggest plan in rio claro, some 40 km east and project porvenir 2 is an concrete arch structure, requiring enormous amount of high quality Cement...  Argos being an influential group in Colombia, pressed forward, and the licence was finally granted this February, allowing the construction.The correction of the impact studies was almost inexistent. The Autoridad Nacional de Licencias Ambientales (Anla), also announced in january 2015 some changes in the processing of licences, aiming to " decongest the processes", therefor giving less time to the authorities to complete environmental studies and lay their verdict . Porvenir 2 license was given the 17 of February, 47 days after the new law.

 

 

The Samana has a unique hydrological regime due to fragile microclimate on the upper watershed, which have allowed an incredible bio diversity to develop.  The presences of endangered species of flowers, trees and insects was ascertained by the environmental studies, but were not taken in account. Personally, I 've seen a “tapirs terrestrus”, a vulnerable species of tapir that use to be present throughout the Colombian territory, but now mostly extinct. Studies do not mansion it. Also the Samana is host to 3 different species of migratory fish. As for the Salmon in North America, these fishes have felt a strong decline in their sizes and number. The dam will block them from returning to their spawning ground, without any compensatory measure. This clearly show the disregard of the environmental impacts during the decision making, and potentially political corruption.

 

Social:

The violent past of Colombia is no secret. Rural areas have exile to the city to escape the violence.Today, Campesino have began to return to their home ground, and the countryside was become alive once again.The theme of war displacement and land restitution is heavily mediated today in Colombia, but the truth is much darker.It's been estimated to 10 % of the refugees have been restituted their land and many other people are being expropriated by the development of hydro and mining. On the other projects, such as el quimbo, Cauca and Hidrosogamoso, Protest leader and indigenous chief have been murdered for raising their voices. The financial compensation offered by the companies are always minimum and don't allow them to go by somewhere else. Also, the work promised during the construction is often not available to them, due to the lack of access to education in theses rural areas.

 

What can you do ?

Sign the petition to help save the Samana. (Spanish)