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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: The biggest problem with tropical dams is of course the release of the greenhouse gas methane, which holds in atmospheric heat 21 times better than carbon dioxide. Methane is a product of the anaerobic decay of plant matter that sinks to the bottom of the reservoir after flooding. This occurs because all the oxygen is used up at higher water levels. The release of methane doesn't decrease as time goes on because plant life returns and sinks to the bottom again because the flow of water is so slow. You can flood a smaller area to get the reservoir you need if you can manipulate mountaneous terrain, but on flat land you need quite a large area. The methane is released all along the waterway, making methane capturing devices cumbersome. However, people need energy one way or another to put it simply, and my first impression is to be ok with the project. It is very unfortunate that the tribes' lands will be flooded, but many people will benefit. Nevertheless I believe the displaced people should be compensated somehow. And dams despite their flaws do take the place of fossil fuels which are slightly worse.


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