Rivers Be Dammed

The struggle between energy development and preserving Patagonia's free-flowing watersheds.

Reel Motion Inc. and American Whitewater’s Evan Stafford has two main passions in life: filming and river activism. The perfect stage for such passions is set in Chile. Patagonia’s rivers are under threat to be dammed. Later this year, he and a group of expedition paddlers will journey to Patagonia to paddle its endangered rivers and immerse themselves in the life they support. Canoe & Kayak Magazine caught up with Stafford to see just what he plans for this project and will be following him as it unfolds.
 

Canoe & Kayak Magazine: What in your words is this project about?
Evan Stafford: Rivers are the lifeblood of the land. It’s something I read on an interpretive sign at the Upper Provo Falls in Utah. It still rings true, and I don’t hesitate to repeat it over and over again. Two of the best free-flowing whitewater rivers in the world, rivers that truly are the lifeblood of their respective communities, the Futaleufu and the Baker Rivers in Patagonia, Chile, are under threat of hydro-development. HidroAysén is a hydroelectric proposal, which, if completed, would place five massive dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers. The electricity would be carried north via 1,200 miles of transmission lines, clear-cutting 1,000 miles of old-growth forest, and breaking up numerous protected areas in the process. Once the transmission lines are in place, no river from deep in Patagonia all the way north to Santiago would be safe from hydro-development.

Large scale damming, which causes massive flooding and displaces wildlife, fauna and/or people, is almost always something I’m against, but until you have a connection to a place and truly understand what’s at stake for both sides, it’s hard to have more than an abstract opposition. Our film is going to document our immersion in, and exploration of the rivers and the life they support, and our investigation of the struggle between Chile’s real need for energy and hydro-development in Patagonia. Our hope is that by following along on our investigation our film can bring not only greater awareness, but also greater understanding of the place, the struggle and also the alternatives that may save the rivers from being dammed.

What inspired this project?
I’ve been wanting to paddle the Futaleufu and Baker Rivers in Patagonia for about a decade, and about a year ago I won a contest put on by Otterbox to do just that. I’ve also been working for American Whitewater as a research consultant and have been a river activist for about as long. When I first wanted to go to Chile, I just wanted to paddle there it looked like some of the best paddling in the world. Over time I became aware of all of the hydro-development issues and decided to try and turn the paddling trip into something much more ambitious. The project is kind of an intersection of all my passions, film making, watershed conservation and kayaking.

How long will this project be in the making?
We really started focusing on the project last fall, and we’ll be in Patagonia from Feb. 17- March 20. Then we’ll be back working on the film and web series into May probably. Our plan is to do a real-time online journal/blog while we’re there, do a three-part web series as timely as we can when we return, and then have a full-length documentary by the summer.

Why do this project now?
Because of public opposition and major flaws with HidroAysen’s proposal, what seemed like a forgone conclusion, the damming of these rivers, is now something that has a chance of being stopped. Information is hard to come by, and it seems like there is a lack of well-told personal stories about these rivers, so our goal is to bring awareness of the most current situation, the best way for people to get involved and a greater understanding of the alternatives and trade-offs involved though the documenting of our own personal immersion and investigation.

For more information on the project and to give to the cause, check out the site: Somos del Rio—A Documentary Film.

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