CONCEPCIÓN – Although the plans are anything but complete, the idea of a Carretera Hídrica (water highway) that would provide the northern regions with water from southern rivers already sparks controversy. Especially in Bíobío region, whose eponymous river would serve as water supply for other regions, authorities and organizations protest. Companies involved in the project ask to prioritize the common good.
To battle the severe drought in northern and central Chile, officials came up with a ‘water highway’ to ensure these parts will get the water they need. Under the project, envisioned as two private initiatives, water from rivers in the southern regions would be transported to the north to supply municipalities and businesses.
The first initiative, called Aqua Atacama, would be an underwater route. Water would go through pipelines that run parallel to the Chilean coast – the oil pipeline technique. The other initiative, called the Northern Chile Water Highway, would supply the mining and agricultural sectors and provide for human consumption. Its 2,400km pipelines would transport water from the Bíobío, Maule, and Rapel rivers throughout the country, also connecting to the central zones.
From various sectors in the south, the plans have faced resistance. Opponents claim the south doesn’t have enough water for the entire country. According to newsportal Bíobío.cl, regional governor Sergio Giacaman said he “could not see the benefits for [his] region.” Nivaldo Piñaleo, mayor of Alto Bío Bío, a municipality close to the Andes mountains, said the indigenous communities in his municipality were not consulted about water extraction from Queuco River.
While feasibility studies are underway and the private initiatives were sent to the Ministry of Public Works to be declared “of public benefit” to avoid extra paperwork, the president of the National Council for the Defense of the Fishing Heritage (Condepp), Hernán Cortés, also rejected the project, according to newspaper The Clinic.
“Any intervention in the Biobío River will kill artisanal fishing in the region, because resources such as sardines, bass and pejerrey obtain nutrients and reproduce mainly at the mouth of the river with the Gulf of Arauco; and if there is no spawning, there will be no fishing, causing not only tremendous ecological damage, but also economic and social damage for more than 4,000 fishers and their families,” Cortés said.
Confronted with the criticism, Juan Sutil, president of Reguemos Chile, a corporation sponsored by, among others, the mining, agriculture, and wine sectors, called upon the opponents to “prioritize the common good.” He denied that taking water from the south and selling it per cubic meter would cause any harm.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.