• Because the Achibueno watershed is one of the five Priority Sites for the Conservation of Biodiversity that exists in the Maule Region. This category was granted by a team of well known experts due to its scenic beauty and the value of its ecosystem.
  • Because the beauty of the river and its surroundings make it one of the most privileged places in the Central zone of Chile in terms of its tourism potential.
  • Because the Achibueno is a small river, and therefore, cannot generate much energy.
Achibueno: Priority Site for the Conservation of Biodiversity
Achibueno: Priority Site for the Conservation of Biodiversity

Below we will give a general evaluation of the project, taking into consideration its impacts and benefits.

The Project

The project belongs to the company, Electro Austral, owned by Mr. Isidoro Quiroga. It consists in the construction of two run-of-the-river power plants located at different spots on the river: the Castillo plant, located at the confluence of the Achibueno with the Las Ánimas stream (30 MW installed capacity); and the Centinela plant, located near the town of Pejerrey (105 MW installed capacity). This type of technology does not use dams but rather diverts a certain quantity of water from the natural flow of the river through canals or tunnels which maintain the altitude of the intake. When these canals or tunnels have gained enough height in relation to the river, the water drops abruptly through a system of pipes and turbines which generate the energy (hydroelectric plant). Then the water is returned to the river. To transport the energy to the areas of demand, high tension power lines are required starting at the same place that the hydroelectric plant is located.

Principal Works:

  • 14.5 kilometers of open ditch canals through the hills and 12.7 kilometers of tunnels. For the construction of these works, approximately 500,000 cubic meters of earth need to be removed, which is equivalent to 50 hectares covered by a meter deep of soil. What will the Hydroelectric Plant do with all this material?
  • 200 meter high piping and machine sheds located next to the confluence of the Las Ánimas stream and the Achibueno river,  Priority  Conservation Site which  Conama wishes to declare as a protected area  (go to: Conama statement).
  • Electric power lines which imply towers of over 40 meters in height and stretches of nearly 40 meters in width without any type of vegetation.
  • New roads with a huge visual impact which only purpose will be to permit the construction and operation of the Hydroelectric plant.
  • 3 reservoirs which would flood nearly 20 hectares.
  • Nearly 375 meter high piping and machine rooms located by Pejerrey.

The General Manager of this project has told the community that the environmental and scenic impacts will be minimal: that the canals will not be seen, trees will be planted over the dumps, and the piping will be painted brown so that they “blend” with the hill, among many other things.  We wanted to put the sincerity of the company to test by visiting the Chacabuquito run-of-river plant (Aconcagua valley). We chose this plant because the General Manager of Electro Austral was the General Manager of Chacabuquito during the construction process. The images speak for themselves…

Chacabuquito
Chacabuquito
Removed Material: not a bit of respect for the landscape
Removed Material: not a bit of respect for the landscape
Removed Material: not a bit of respect for the landscape
Removed Material: not a bit of respect for the landscape

Chacabuquito
Chacabuquito

Environmental Impact

  • Effects not yet measured on aquatic life and native flora associated to the fact that most of the river flow will be diverted from its natural course or river bed (IN SUMMER THIS WOULD BE MORE THAN HALF THE VOLUME OF THE WATER).
  • Cutting down large surface areas  of Native Flora (principally millenary forests of  hualos (Nothofagus glauca) and cipreses de cordillera (Austrocedrus chilensis or Chilean cedar) for the construction of works such as canals, roads, power line layouts, soil dumps, and hydroelectric plants. The Hydroelectric Plant estimates they must cut down 100 hectares. We believe it could be even more …..
  • Flooding of at least 15 hectares of Native Flora.
  • Noise from the construction and operation processes will have a negative effect on the native fauna (among which are found the species such as the Tricahue parrot).
  • Erosion processes triggered by the removal of earth and cutting of Native Flora.
Achibueno Valley
Achibueno Valley

Impact on Tourism

Henry Purcell, executive director of Ski Portillo, refers to the tourism potential of the Achibueno with the following words: “The Achibueno River valley has great qualities for tourism. Modern travelers don’t only look for vacations for resting. They seek sports, adventure, nature, beautiful scenery, and ecologically healthy fun.  In the Achibueno River valley there is a world of forests, rivers, mountains, snow, lagoons;  a world of great diversity  in a pristine state. Here we can offer tourists a great variety of excursions and adventures: Ornithology, horseback riding, hikes, mountain climbing, adventures, and water sports along a marvelous river. It is a zone with huge possibilities for attracting international tourism”.

The Regional Tourism Office of Maule realized 5 surveys during the 2008 summer season to estimate the growth in the number of tourists and the average percentage of occupation in hotels or lodging services in the Maule Region.  For the Andes Foothills Sector (that included Linares) a 70% rate of occupation was obtained. This percentage indicates 3% growth in regard to the same period in the year 2007.  And another significant figure:  tourism brought in 40 million dollars in the Maule Region during the summer season 2008.

The question we should ask is: what will happen with the tourism potential of the Achibueno valley if the plants are built? The impact that the hydroelectric plants will have on tourism are directly related to the impact they will have on nature and on the river flow, which constitutes the main source of recreation for the tourists.

No tourists wish to see high tension towers, soil dumps, machine rooms, piping, canals, and felled forests.  An intelligent long -term vision by the authorities, that gives priority to the wellbeing of the inhabitants of Linares over a prolonged period of time, should tend towards motivating tourism (improving access to the watershed and seriously studying the possibility that the Achibueno become a National Park of Chile) and never approving a hydroelectric project of this type.

Achibueno River
Achibueno River

Benefits of the Project

The benefits for Linares are:

  • Use of local labor (we don’t know the number of jobs) that the Hydroelectric plant will require during its construction process (that will last 2 to 3 years). Once the construction is completed the plants will operate automatically.
  • Materials and supplies acquired in the district.

The contribution of energy to the SIC (Central Interconnected System):

  • The Castillo plant will have an installed capacity (maximum power it can reach) of 30 MW and the Centinela plant will have a capacity of 105 MW. In reality, this amount of power will be reached in the winter months only. The rest of the year will be much less.

Benefits versus Impacts

For the project to truly contribute development to the region, the benefits would at least have to   compensate for the negative impacts associated to its construction. It is evident that this would not occur: in fact, looking at it from a strictly economic point of view the valley can generate much more wealth over the long term in jobs and investments associated to tourism than by building the hydroelectric plants.

From an environmental point of view , practically all of Central Chile’s rivers have been intervened, or are in the process of being intervened,  aggravating the  loss of ecological biodiversity affecting this zone. The most serious international studies on the subject confirm that: the Central zone of Chile was declared as a “Hotspot” by International Conservation in the year 2004 (go to the study). This denomination refers to ecosystems that have a high degree of endemism (endemism is a native biological species that is exclusive to the zone, area, or geographical region, and which is not found naturally in any other place in the world) and which at the same time are subject to strong human pressure. In the study, hydroelectric plants are explicitly identified as the cause of this fragile situation.

Mónica Rivera, director of Conama in the Maule region, states the need to preserve this place: “The Achibueno valley possesses great biodiversity; it receives water from the Las Ánimas, La Gloria, Potrillo, and Los Patos streams. The Achibueno river has incredibly  lovely spots with its crystalline descent forming rapids, pools, and eddies, creating  some of the most indomitable awe-inspiring scenery in central Chile, with its  turquoise pools,  native forests, and granite walls, thus constituting a natural patrimony that we must protect”.

Our conclusion is that the contribution that the hydroelectric plants will make to the    SIC in terms of energy is very marginal in relation to the costs that the region will have to assume due to its construction. If the National Watershed Strategy announced by President Bachelet in her policy program were operating, without a doubt the Achibueno River would be free of threat: “We will define a National Watershed Strategy which allows identifying, based on the best scientific information, those water sheds that can be intervened as well as those that should be preserved.  We should take into account the Priority Sites for the Conservation of Bio-Diversity.  The approval of large scale hydraulic projects will depend on the results of the National Watershed Strategy”. We are making a public call to our President to keep the promise she made with the citizens of this country before she came into power.

One of the most beautiful rivers of Chile
One of the most beautiful rivers of Chile

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