The 1999 demolition of the Edwards Dam on Maine’s Kennebec River set off a wave of dam removals across the United States. Since then some 1,200 dams have come down to help restore rivers and aquatic animals, improve water quality, and boost public safety — among other benefits. Across the Atlantic, European nations have been busy removing thousands of river barriers, too. But until recently the efforts have gone largely unnoticed, even among experts. Pao Fernández Garrido can attest to that. An engineer and expert in ecosystem restoration from Spain, Fernández Garrido was finishing her master’s thesis in 2012 when she attend a dam-removal training in Massachusetts that was part of a conference on fish passage.
One hundred years later, after the Treaty of Walla Walla was signed, tribes watched their sacred rivers and waterfalls being dammed one after another. The fishing wars had begun as the American government tried to take away treaty rights from Northwest tribes. Today, the fish are dying and no longer able to return home navigating through mass pollution, warming waters and massive dams that block their only way home to spawn. Spawning grounds have been built over. Many of the great forests have been clear-cut, destroying precious spawning grounds. Another broken treaty. Here, in the Northwest, short-termed thinking of American policymakers mutilated and deformed the beautiful Columbia Basin as they pursued the energy needs of the settler colonizers at the expense of Tribal communities and the environment by constructing dam after dam.
After nearly two decades, Indigenous Peoples win an agreement for the largest dam removal in the world. Four of the six dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon will be taken down, allowing the water to flow freely again and the salmon to spawn. This is a powerful story of how four tribes put aside their past conflicts to work together and environmental groups participated in an indigenous-led campaign that took on two of the wealthiest men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. And this is an example of why, if we want to succeed in restoring our relationship with the earth, Indigenous Peoples must be at the forefront.
An indigenous leader in April 2015 at the São Manoel dam construction site on the Teles Pires River in the Tapajós basin. Photo by Midia Ninja courtesy of International Rivers. In a surprise move, the Brazilian government has announced that the era of building big hydroelectric dams in the Amazon basin, long criticized by environmentalists and indigenous groups, is ending. “We are not prejudiced against big [hydroelectric] projects, but we have to respect the views of society, which views them with restrictions,” Paulo Pedrosa, the Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, told O Globo newspaper. According to Pedrosa, Brazil has the potential to generate an additional 50 gigawatts of energy by 2050 through the building of new dams but, of this total, only 23 percent would not affect in some way indigenous land, quilombolas (communities set up by runaway slaves) and federally protected areas.
By Sam Morgan for Earth First Newswire - Two large dams on a river in northern France will be demolished after the French government finally signed off on a long-gestating plan to free up the waterway, in a decision welcomed by environmental groups and lauded as “unique in Europe” by Paris. In early 2018, work will begin on removing the 35 metre-high Vezins and the 15 metre-high ‘La Roche qui boit’ dams from the Sélune river in Normandy, after nearly a century of the barriers producing hydropower for the region. France has been toying with the idea of demolishing the dams for nearly eight years but last week Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot announced that the government had given the plan the green light. “Rehabilitating the ecological continuity of the river shows this ministry’s commitment to reclaiming biodiversity,” Hulot said, adding that these kind of projects should be a priority in the government’s efforts to reduce the effects of climate change. The government insisted that there is no risk of flooding but that safety assessments would still be carried out during and after the demolition works.
By Staff of The Democracy Center - ASOQUIMBO has been resisting this hydroelectric project for several years, highlighting its social and environmental impacts as well as a series of legal irregularities on the part of EMGESA (an Enel subsidiary in Colombia). They have also called into question current energy and mining policy in Colombia, demanding in its place the construction of a policy based on national sovereignty and local control of renewable energy sources to meet the needs of local communities. Miller Dussan now faces up to twelve years in prison as a result of two legal charges being brought against him based on accusations made by Emgesa.
By Sue Branford and Maurício Torres for Mongabay - The Tapajós River Basin lies at the heart of the Amazon, and also at the heart of an exploding controversy: whether to build more than 40 large dams, a railway, roads, canals and port complexes, turning the Basin into a vast industrialized commodities export corridor; or to curb this development impulse and conserve one of the most biologically and culturally rich regions on the planet. Those struggling to shape the Basin's fate hold conflicting opinions, but because the Tapajós is an isolated region, few of these views get aired in the media. Journalist Sue Branford and social scientist Mauricio Torres travelled there recently for Mongabay, and over coming weeks hope to shed some light on the heated debate that will shape the future of the Amazon.
By Staff of Indian Country Today - Flood gates from a reservoir were opened and washed homes away in August and, according to Indigenous Ngabe protesters in Panama, they were then harassed, shot by police, and now attack dogs have been used at recent protests. Despite these challenges, the protestors are not backing down from their 10-year struggle to prevent a massive hydroelectric dam on their land. The Ngabe activists and allies are fighting against the controversial Barrio Blanco Hydroelectric Dam project which has again been halted due to multiple protests around the country.
By Juliana Britto Schwartz for Feministing - In a historic victory, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous groups has managed to suspend construction of a mega-dam that threatened to submerge their home. The Brazilian indigenous agency FUNAI finally demarcated the territory of the Munduruku people, providing the legal basis to suspend construction of the São Luiz de Tapajós dam. These 700 square miles of land – known as Sawre Muybu – are now legally recognized as the traditional territory of the Munduruku and protected under the Brazilian constitution...
By Philippa de Boissière and Sian Cowman for Foreign Policy In Focus - A world-renowned environmental activist, Berta had been a driving force in protecting the lands and waters of rural communities in Honduras. Among the many victories of the organization she founded was the delay of a megadam project on the Gualcarque River that could be disastrous for the indigenous Lenca people living there. Berta is not alone, nor is her story unique to Honduras. Across the Global South, mega hydroelectric projects are expanding — driven by governments and multinationals as a source of cheap energy, and branded by international institutions as a solution to poverty and the climate crisis.
By Shaghayegh Tajvidi for The Real News Network - This action by hunger strikers in Vancouver marks the latest in the fight against BC Hydro's $9 billion infrastructure project, along the Peace River valley. Site C, which sits on the traditional land of Treaty 8 First Nations, has been approved and aggressively championed by Christy Clark's Liberal government, although the project was introduced at least three decades ago. NEWS REPORT: BC Hydro says the project will generate 1,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 450,000 homes a year. The dam would flood more than 5,500 hectares of land along the Peace River.
By Sage Birley for Vancouver Observer - Members of Treaty 8 and their supporters have drawn a line in the snow at the historic Rocky Mountain Fort to stop ongoing clearing for the $8.8 billion Site C Dam. The Rocky Mountain Fort, first established in 1793 as a fur trading post, marks the site of some of the first interactions between First Nations people and European settlers in the Peace Region. “This fort was the initial relationship place, but I think there is so much significance down this whole valley,” said Helen Knott, who has been camped out at the Fort in shifts since New Years Eve.
By Elizabeth Grossman for Earth Island Journal - Three of the world’s most important tropical river basins — the Amazon, the Congo and the Mekong — are experiencing an unprecedented boom in the construction of hydropower dams. According to a paper by more than three dozen scientists from universities, research institutions and conservation organizations around the world, which will be pubished tomorrow in Sciencemagazine, these projects pose a major threat to biodiversity, including to one-third of all the world’s freshwater fish species. The authors say long-term impacts of tropical hydropower projects are rarely assessed adequately and call for better — and more transparent — planning that more accurately evaluates the full costs of these dams.
By Sue Branford for Mongabay. Brazil’s Public Federal Ministry (Ministério Público Federal, MPF), an independent state body, has started legal proceedings to have it recognised that the crime of “ethnocide” was committed on seven indigenous groups due to the severe detrimental impacts on their lives made by the building of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric power station that will soon begin operating on the Xingu River in eastern Amazonia. The charges have been made against Brazil’s federal government and Norte Energia, the contractor that built the dam. After carrying out a lengthy study that fills 50 books and includes contributions from a wide range of experts, the MPF has concluded that the “social organization, customs, languages and traditions” of the indigenous groups have been destroyed by the construction of the dam. The MPF says: “The villages became covered in garbage, with a proliferation of disease as a result, illnesses such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes became common because of the change in diet, child mortality surged, along with alcoholism, drug consumption and prostitution”.
By Christian Poirier, Amazon Watch & Brent Millikan, International Rivers. When Brazilian energy planners proposed to choke the Amazon’s Tapajós River and its tributaries with dozens of large hydroelectric dams, they underrated a formidable foe: the Munduruku people. The largest indigenous group in the Tapajós Basin, the Munduruku are proving to be sophisticated adversaries who are throwing a wrench in the dam industry's plans. The tribe has frequently caught the Brazilian government off guard with their tactics. They have a flair for the theatrical – they staged a series of dramatic protests in Brasilia, including a “die-in” at the Ministry of Mines and Energy – and the practical. In January, they delivered a protocol to government officials demanding a culturally-appropriate process of free, prior and informed consultation and consent (FPIC). While enshrined in Brazil’s constitution and integral to ILO Convention 169, the indigenous right to FPIC has been systematically ignored in Brazil.