Crisis Hidroituango: Troubled dam continues to wreak havoc on Cauca river

By Arjun Harindranath February 11, 2019
Puerto Valdivia, photo above from August 2018, has remained in a constant state of red alert since April last year and has now seen its river slowly disappear. Photo by Arjun Harindranath

The environmental crisis stemming from troubled dam project Hidroituango continues as EPM, the utilities company in charge of the project, hurries to restore water levels in the Cauca river back to normal.

The river, Colombia’s second-largest and a vital lifeline to thousands along it, saw its water levels recede over the last five days as EPM closed two of the dam’s floodgates earlier this week as an emergency precaution. Yesterday the floodgates were opened once again in an attempt to normalise river flow in the Cauca.

EPM Director Londoño maintained that the actions taken were regrettable but also posed an ethical dilemma in that it forced the company to choose human lives over the environmental cost.

The resulting impact on the ecosystem has been severe with many fishes dying as water levels decreased. In a sit-down interview last night with director of Noticias Caracol, Juan Roberto Vargas, Londoño said that 5 in 6 fish from the Cauca river stretching from Puerto Valdivia to Caucasia were rescued by local brigades following the closing of the floodgates. The EPM director believes that the actions were justified and reversible and promised that a replanting of lost fish species would occur soon.

Meanwhile local television station RCN Noticias is reporting from the scene that the Ombudsman (Defensoria de Pueblo) has arrived in the region to assess whether any human rights violations have taken place on EPM’s part.

The Ombudsman will aim to restart a dialogue, one that has begun since the dam first showed signs of trouble in April last year, between the affected communities in Bajo Cauca and EPM. In a public statement, the Ombudsman stated that the priority will be to identify “the impacts that the serious ecological actions  has had on the effective enjoyment of the human rights of the communities along the river”.

The crisis and subsequent response has once again put EPM in the spotlight and has led to public outcry across social media. Posting under hashtags like #hidroituangocrimenambiental and #YoSoyRioCauca, many in the public continue to question whether the project, which promises to generate 16% of Colombia’s electricity, will be worth the human and environmental toll it has caused in the region.