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Katrina Holcomb

student of biology, University of Oregon

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Will the Belo Monte Dam project on the Amazon River cause more harm to the environment or will it be a good source of energy for Brazil?

The Amazon rainforest is an internationally recognized epicenter of biodiversity. Countless campaigns to stop the cutting and burning these rainforests have fallen on deaf ears. Now the Brazilian government plans to build what would be the world's 3rd largest dam [1] on the beautiful and ancient Amazon River. The Belo Monte project would span the Xingu River with 3 different dams: 233MW Pimental, 233MW Bela Vista, and 11,000MW Belo Monte. In addition, two artificial canals must be built to divert the river, which together will span more area than the Panama Canal.

These dams will have a myriad of negative impacts on the local environment. Construction of the dam will cause about 400-640 sq km land upstream to become flooded for a reservoir - an area equal to the size of Chicago. The town of Altamira will be flooded as well as countless acres that house the region's tribal populations. The impact on biodiversity includes 6-8 species of fish endemic to the Amazon River that will likely go extinct as well as a 2% decrease in the total forested area of the Amazon rainforest.

Organisms endangered by the construction of Belo Monte cannot verbalize their traumatic destruction of their ecosystem, but the indigenous people of the Amazon can; they are currently protesting the construction of the Belo Monte project through an "occupy" movement.

Belo Monte project is the first of many dam projects planned for the Brazilian portion of the Amazon River. Do these indigenous people have a right to decide what happens to their ancestral homeland? Or is the Brazilian government in the right by providing power for the majority of their country? Will the Belo Monte become the Belo "Muerte" dam (aka dam of death)?

Here's a 10 minute video that covers the impact the Belo Monte dam on the Amazon:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-seAAIsJLQ [1]

Related articles:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/03/brazil-dam-activists-war-military [2]


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    May 14 2013: Although it would be great if the construction of the dam could be stopped, it doesn't seem very likely. The dam's construction was momentarily halted in December of last year ue to the influence of a federal judge but it has since started up again.

    I think the aim now should be to investigate ways to save some of the species and mitigate the damage done. It might be a good idea to start collecting species in the local habitat and transporting them to safer environments (maybe zoo's but hopefully other natural locations). Also, it would interesting to see if the dam's construction includes any fish passage ways that will enable fish to travel upstream to their natural breeding grounds. Fish ladders would be a good start but have they looked into any more advanced technologies?

    Oregon has been a leader in these kind of technologies and it would be hoped that can be applied in this situation.

    Also, would it be possible to dig moats, dikes, or trenches around certain parts of the forest in order to maintain small pockets of dry land (e.g. nature preserves)?
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      May 14 2013: I agree with you Ben. I think that unfortunately, Brazil will indeed go through with the construction of the Belo Monte Dam. While I think that trying to conserve current endemic species is absolutely critical while the occupy movement is currently in swing, there also needs to be some thought put into how to reduce the carbon monoxide emissions that will inevitably result from the decomposing vegetation. Not to mention the deforestation that will result which compounds the effects of the carbon emissions. And how to best accommodate all of the indigenous tribes that will invariably be affected.
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      May 15 2013: I was also curious about the idea of fish ladders, and it seems that they are planning on constructing some kind of fish ladder system or other forms of passage for the local fish communities, but from the reading I've done it sounds like they won't make much of a difference. Fish ladders are very effective for really large dams because the fish simply can't make it that far up, but for smaller dams they can be more helpful. So I imagine that, if they end up using ladders, they won't really help to maintain the local fish populations due to the expected size of the Belo Monte Dam.

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