San Rafael Falls - site of future diversion for a hydro project In general Ecuador has quite healthy rivers and less pressure to dam them than many places I have traveled. This is likely changing with numerous hydro generation projects being proposed that will affect both whitewater rivers and the wildlife living in some beautiful jungle canyons. So far there are few potential projects that threaten the rivers we regularly run, but there seems to be an increasing interest in them. One of the main reasons for this is that Ecuador is trying to reduce their carbon footprint. Although we of course hope that all nations can succeed rapidly in this goal we also hope that river recreation will be considered when making decisions on these projects. The reality is that Ecuador is a developing nation and its environmental standards are sometimes lax and enforcement of these regulations can be nonexistent.
Fortunately we have a great advocate working on these issues. His name is Matt Terry, he is from the USA but is now a resident in Ecuador and started the Ecuadorian River Institute in 2002. The ERI targets river drainages which are important for recreational river use and advocates protecting river corridors for the benefit of maintaining the high levels of biodiversity and realizing sustainable, tourism-based economies in these areas. This is a non profit 501c3 organization set up in Colorado although the work being done is all in Ecuador. Their website is http://www.kayakecuador.com/ and I encourage everyone who cares about rivers to visit this site and to contact Matt for more information. He has an amazing amount of energy and persistence to deal with these issues and SWA is happy that he is the river watchdog in Ecuador. We are now facing some critical water management issues, and we all need to support Matt in his efforts to work with the government on sustainable energy development BEFORE we lose valuable paddling resources.
Illegal project on the Rio Pucuno
A recent example of what the ERI is doing: On April 18, 2008, the Ecuadorian Water Authority suspended construction by the Napo Provincial Government on the Pucuno Hydro Project in response to the legal demand brought forward by the ERI for not complying with any environmental regulations or government permits. The Provincial Government has been levied a fine that will supposedly finance the remediation of the affected area. This will be an important precedent for how imprudent and inappropriate development practices by local governments are managed by national government authorities. This project was well on it's way and without ERI bringing it to the authorities attentions it may have been completed without any environmental oversight or even governmental permission.
If you have paddled in Ecuador (or even if you hope to one day), and want to help ERI out, please go to http://www.kayakecuador.com/ERI_Home.htm#donations. Remember the ERI is up against some big multinational players so they could really use the help.
I plan to post a monthly blog about different conservation issues relating to Ecuador's rivers that will have some good info from Matt as well as some cool photos. Stay tuned, the next one will be on the Rio Jondachi.