Endesa Renounces Rights to Futaleufu Watershed
UPDATED Press Release: Endesa Chile Renounces Rights to Develop Hydropower Dam in Patagonia; Chilean Non-profit Applies to Obtain Water Rights for Conservation Purposes[NOTE: This is an update to the Press Release dated 31 August, 2016 entitled “Endesa Chile Renounces Rights to Develop Hydropower Dam in Patagonia; Chilean Non-profit to Seek Water Rights for Conservation Purposes”. To view the original click here.]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contacts: Chile: Rocio Gonzalez, Executive Director, Futaleufu Riverkeeper
Global: Patrick Lynch, International Director, Futaleufu Riverkeeper
Puerto Montt, Chile, Mon., September 5, 2016 –– Endesa Chile, a multinational energy company with US $4.2 billion in 2015 revenues, relinquished rights last week to develop large hydroelectricity projects on the Futaleufu River in Chile’s Patagonia region. According to a press release issued by the company, the decision was made at a board meeting of Endesa’s Board of Directors. Prior to renouncing the rights, the company unsuccessfully spent six months trying to find a buyer for the water rights, which under Chile’s water code can be bought and sold like other private goods.
Futaleufu Riverkeeper, a Chilean nonprofit and a member of the global Waterkeeper Alliance, went to the Notary Public of Chaiten on Friday to verify the water rights to the Futaleufu were renounced. Following this confirmation, Futaleufu Riverkeeper’s team met with the Governor of the Province, Carlos Javier Salas Castro, to indicate the nonprofit’s goal of obtaining the water rights for conservation purposes until a more permanent solution is developed. Following this meeting, Futaleufu Riverkeeper submitted a request to obtain the water rights. This is an unprecedented move for a river of such importance.
Futaleufu Riverkeeper’s Executive Director and Riverkeeper, Rocio Gonzalez said ¨this decision by Endesa, the same company that dammed the BioBio River and displaced the Mapuche people, is a sign our communities are finally starting to win. We now call upon the government and policymakers to listen to the people and agree that our rivers are important enough to protect permanently.¨ Following the nonprofit’s move to solicit the water rights, Gonzalez called the local radio station in Futaleufu to inform the community and recommend other actors file similar requests, for example the Municipality of Futaleufu.
Under Chilean law, water rights can be obtained from the government but require payment of an annual fee if they are not used by the owner, which for Endesa would reportedly have totaled USD $1.5 million this year for the Futaleufu.
Additionally, shareholders of Endesa will be voting in October whether to change the company’s name to Enel Generación. The name change would align with the name of the company’s Italian majority owner, Enel, and is part of a strategic shift away from hydroelectricity generation, according to news reports. The change would distance the company from a brand that has been embroiled in social conflicts in Chile since the 1990s, when it won government approval to relocate indigenous groups and build dams on the Bio Bio River.
Endesa Chile’s decision to relinquish the rights follows a sustained 9-year effort by Chilean communities and NGOs to block large hydroelectric development in the Patagonia region, a remote region of South America known for its many undisturbed fjords, mountains, and glacier-fed rivers.
These efforts have gained widespread exposure through the work of more than 60 groups uniting as the Patagonia Defense Council, as well as exposure from celebrity activists including Leonardo DiCaprio, Daryl Hannah, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, and Chilean actresses Juanita Ringeling and Fernanda Urrejola.
The move follows several major defeats for Endesa Chile. After years of seeking government approval for a large 2,750 MW dam complex on the Baker and Pascua Rivers, the permit was invalidated by the government in 2014. The Patagonia Defense Council was widely credited with exerting the political pressure needed to invalidate the permit.
That same year Endesa shelved plans to build a 1,400 MW dam complex on the Futaleufu, following a news report in Chile’s La Tercera in which an Endesa executive stated the company was concerned about opposition from local communities and groups including Futaleufu Riverkeeper. And earlier this year, Endesa’s request to change the location of its water rights on the Futaleufu was rejected after challenges were filed by Futaleufu Riverkeeper and landowners.
In the words of Valter Moro, Endesa’s Chief Executive, referring to the decision to give back the water rights, “the will of Endesa Chile is to only carry out initiatives that are technically and economically feasible and have the acceptance of the communities in which they are embedded.”
Patrick J. Lynch, an American attorney with Futaleufu Riverkeeper, talked about what comes next. “What I think we need now is a public call for water code reforms needed to put an end to the privatization of water rights. In that sense the move has given us a common point around which we can rally.”
Cecilia Uribe, a volunteer with the organization and a native of Futaleufu, criticized Chile’s system of gifting public rights to private entities. “Communities and conservation groups shouldn’t have to play this game of requesting private rights just to get our rivers back. They were ours from the beginning, and they should be held for our children and future generations.”
For Gonzalez, the decision also reflects the will of the people. “Communities all over Chile and especially in Patagonia have already decided what they want. It is only those in power who have not been listening. This news will motivate our community to keep fighting and doing what they have always been doing, which is living in harmony with the natural environment.”
About Futaleufu Riverkeeper: Fundación Futaleufu Riverkeeper is a Chilean nonprofit organization founded in 2012. Its mission is to protect the country’s natural and cultural heritage, particularly the Futaleufu watershed. For more information please visit www.futaleufuriverkeeper.org, or follow on Instagram @futakeeper, Twitter @futariverkeeper or Facebook @futaleufuriverkeeper.
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