The Baba dam project threatens a river basin

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Los Ríos Province, Ecuador
Project Photo
Photo: The Baba dam project will destroy critical habitat of the Neotropical River otter, a threatened species. Credit: Juan Villalba.

The Baba hydroelectric dam project will radically transform important forests and agricultural areas in central Ecuador, jeopardizing the welfare of thousands of farming and fishing dependent families, and threatening the survival of endemic and endangered species.

In 2007, AIDA and its partner environmental law group in Ecuador, ECOLEX, joined the long battle against this dam in an effort to help protect critical ecosystems and the rights of local communities. Our initial efforts were successful, setting an important legal precedent before the Constitutional Court of Ecuador, but much work remains to guarantee protection for the environment and the rights of affected communities.

Severe and irreversible impacts

If completed as planned, the Baba dam project would stretch from Quito to Guayaquil in a series of dikes and canals that would divert approximately 80% of the water from the Baba and Toachi Grande Rivers towards the Daule-Peripa dam. A new reservoir dam, flooding more than 1000 hectares, would also be built, along with a 42 megawatt hydroelectric generating plant.

If the new reservoir is filled, several hundred people residing in the flood zone would be displaced, including those from two Afroecuadorian communities. Thousands more living downstream might lose their livelihoods as thriving fisheries and farms are deprived of needed river water. River-side communities would likely suffer as well from water shortages, deteriorating water quality, and increased risk of insect-born disease arising from stagnant water in the dam reservoir.

The Baba dam project would also have dire impacts on native plants and animals, including endemic species (found only in this locale), as well as others considered threatened and endangered. Filling the reservoir would destroy key habitat for many notable threatened species including: the Chaleco anteater (Tamandua mexicana), the Red Brocket deer (Mazama americana),the Neotropical River otter (Lontra longicaudis), the Brown Wood rail (Aramides wolfi), and more than 20 species of endemic plants. Dramatic reductions in downstream river flow would also cause significant harm to fish and other river-dependent species.

Flawed impact studies lead to court battle

Despite the magnitude of the Baba dam project, the social and environmental impact assessments (SIA and EIA) prepared for the project were seriously flawed and did not meet national and international standards . Hence, when the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment proceeded to grant an environmental license for the project in November 2006, ECOLEX challenged the dam with a lawsuit (acción de amparo), alleging that the EIA and SIA were incomplete and inaccurate. AIDA participated by submitting an amicus brief (a friend of the court brief) that supported ECOLEX’s case with additional international law and human rights arguments. AIDA’s amicus brief was co-signed by International Rivers and the Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN).

Victory in court, yet dam construction proceeds

In a significant win for environmental and human rights protection in Ecuador, in December 2008, the Constitutional Tribunal of Ecuador ruled in our favor and concluded that the manner in which the Baba project had been authorized and implemented constituted a violation of human rights, including the rights to a healthy environment, to consultation, and to citizen participation.

For this reason, the Tribunal ordered the Ministry of the Environment to revise the Baba dam project’s environmental and social impact studies. The court also ordered the government to conduct an audit of the project and to monitor the dam project closely to guarantee the rights of the plaintiffs and environmental protection.

Unfortunately, the Ecuadorian government has chosen to continue constructing the Baba dam project, even though most of the court-ordered revisions are not complete, and the one completed part, an official audit by the Ecuadorean Comptroller’s Office, highly criticized the project and highlighted errors in its design. The audit concluded that the plans for the entire project were incomplete and lacked measures to reduce environmental damage from sediment accumulation in the dam, among other things.

AIDA and its partners raised these same concerns during the court proceedings. AIDA is currently advising ECOLEX on possible strategies to ensure that the Tribunal’s ruling is properly enforced.

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