Endesa won that battle with an enormous buyout, but the Biobío was not the last threatened Chilean river. Many rafters and kayakers consider the Futaleufú, in southern Region X near the Argentine border, the world’s greatest white-water challenge, but Endesa and other energy companies have options on its water rights, despite its isolation. Near the Region XI town of Cochrane, Endesa and its Chilean partner Colbun have plans to build a series of four massive dams on the nearly pristine Río Baker and Río Pascua in the so-called HydroAysén project; these would not only affect the local environment, but would require clear-cutting large swaths of forest for more than a thousand kilometers of transmission lines to connect them to the national grid.
In mid-2012, the Baker and Pascua got a reprieve when minority partner Colbun decided, because of unfavorable political circumstances — primarily the plunging popularity of President Sebastián Piñera — to shelve the project. Almost certainly, though, it will be resurrected under a succeeding government.
Environmental advocates argue that sustainable activities, such as rafting and kayaking, flyfishing, and even salmon farming (a bogeyman to some conservationists) are more appropriate uses than massive dams and deforestation. To promote their cause, Chilean conservation organizations such as the Grupo de Acción por el Biobío (Biobío Action Group) have made common cause with overseas affiliates such as the International Rivers Network (2150 Allston Way, Suite 300, Berkeley, CA 94704, tel. 510/848-1155) and Futaleufú Riverkeeper (tel. 065/562746 in Chile; tel. 914/357-4837 in the U.S.). U.S. conservationist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has brought several high-profile groups to raft the “Fu” and has questioned the long-term viability of Endesa’s plans.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Chile.