Contested construction of large dams in Santa Cruz river, Argentina

In the era of distributed generation, the government proposes the construction of two large dams on the Santa Cruz River, far away from the demand, impacting on the hydrological cycle of the river and the habitats that depend on it.


The Santa Cruz main stem river is located in the extra-Andean biozone, a scarcely vegetated plateau with semi-arid grass and low shrubs. It originates in two oligotrophic to ultra-oligotrophic large glacial lakes, Viedma and Argentino, and flows for 382 km across the Patagonian plateau to drain into the Atlantic Ocean. River discharge is derived primarily from snow and glacial melt, which is in turn governed by the complex interaction between climatic conditions and the dynamics of the South Patagonian Ice Field. The two dams projected for the Santa Cruz River are located at river km 132 (Cóndor Cliff, 50.206° S, 70.785° W) and at river km 197 (Barrancosa, 50.185° S, 70.177° W). Together they will dam up 197 km of river, leaving only a lower stretch of 49% of current length of regulated river. Typical hydrologic impacts of dams around the world consist of reducing the amount and variation of downstream flow and the frequency of bed scouring flows. The result of such manipulation of river discharge is a simplification of channel morphology and an impoverishment of the mosaic of river habitats, with negative impacts on community composition and species richness. The most significant and obvious impact of the two dams to be built in the Santa Cruz will be the obliteration of 51% of the current lotic environment.  Meanwhile, downstream impacts of dams on river biota through changes in thermal and hydrological regimes, and in nutrient and sediment loads are harder to predict. In general, only few species capable to withstand sudden changes in flow are expected to survive below the dams. In the end, the outcome will depend on specific aspects of the project design and operation, which have not been publicly revealed yet. 

Basic Data
NameContested construction of large dams in Santa Cruz river, Argentina
ProvinceSanta Cruz
SiteSanta Cruz River
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsNestor Kirchner dam: 1140 MW

Jorge Cepernic dam: 600 MW

The project is described as follows by Represas Patagonia: "El aprovechamiento hidroeléctrico del Río Santa Cruz es una obra clave para el futuro desarrollo energético de Argentina. Consiste en la construcción de dos represas y sendas centrales hidroelécticas ubicadas sobre el río Santa Cruz con la finalidad de generar energía renovable para todo el país. El contrato está a cargo de las empresas Electroingeniería, China Gezhouba Group Corporation e Hidrocuyo que poseen una vasta y reconocida experiencia en el diseño y construcción de grandes obras de infraestructura energética. Esta obra permitirá el desarrollo de emprendimientos agrícolas, ganaderos e industriales. La disponibilidad de energía en la región permitirá la creación de industrias metalúrgicas, gasíferas, pesqueras, entre otras. Se aprovecharan también los espejos de agua generados en ambas represas para la realización de actividades recreativas y emprendimientos turísticos."(1)
Project Area (in hectares)35,000
Level of Investment (in USD)4,770,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population10,000
Start Date06/02/2015
Company Names or State EnterprisesChina Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC) from China - Construction and investment in dams
Hidrocuyo S.A. from Argentina - Operation of dams
Electroingeniería S.A. from Argentina - Engineering, construction, operation and maintenance of dams
Relevant government actorsNational government of Argentina

Provincial government of Santa Cruz
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersBanco de bosques (

Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina (

Aves Argentinas (

Fundación Flora y Fauna Argentina (

Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (

Fundación Naturaleza para el futuro (
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Conservationist organizations
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
OtherReduction in nutrients carried by the river.
Health ImpactsPotential: Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Development of AlternativesMix of other renewable energies:

solar (429 MW),

wind (808 MW),

biomass (432 MW),

biogas (207 MW),

minihidro (141 MW).

In total, this alternative provides 2,017 MW of installed potency, 16% more than the 1,740 proposed with dam usage.

The alternative reduces significantly the impact, increasing the generation and with equal investment.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The two dams are making "progress" towards contruction in 2018 under Presdent Macri. (2).
Sources and Materials

Quiroga, A. P., Lancelotti, J. L., Riva-Rossi, C. M., Tagliaferro, M., Asorey, M. G., & Pascual, M. A. (2015). Dams versus habitat: predicting the effects of dams on habitat supply and juvenile rainbow trout along the Santa Cruz River, Patagonia. Hydrobiologia, 755(1), 57–72.
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Marina Tagliaferro, María Laura Miserendino, Ana Liberoff, Analia Quiroga, Miguel Pascual, Dams in the last large free-flowing rivers of Patagonia, the Santa Cruz River, environmental features, and macroinvertebrate community, Limnologica - Ecology and Management of Inland Waters, Volume 43, Issue 6, 2013, Pages 500-509, ISSN 0075-9511,
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Banco de Bosques, Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina, Aves Argentinas, Fundación Flora y Fauna Argentina, Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Fundación Naturaleza para el Futuro. ¡La Argentina no necesita represas sobre el Río Santa Cruz! Alternativas Energéticas.
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Río Santa Cruz sin represas
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Newspaper article
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Newspaper article
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Wikipedia article
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Article about the history of the project
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(1) Represas Cóndor Cliff y La Barrancosa - Santa Cruz. En marcha. Un proyecto de importancia estratégica para el país, que ya emplea a 1400 personas y que en los próximos meses seguirá incorporando personal e incrementando sus actividades.
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(2) Good description of the debate. 17 marzo 2018. Las represas de la polémica en el Río Santa Cruz. A pesar de la oposición de los sectores ambientalistas y de la controversia que rodea al proyecto, el gobierno avanza en la construcción de las demoradas represas Cóndor Cliff y La Barrancosa. Por Susana Rigoz y Mariano Roca.
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Media Links

Facebook profile
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Powerpoint presentation
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Article and technical opinions about the project
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Other Documents

Location of the dams Graphic description of the project
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Meta Information
ContributorPaula Guillaumet
Last update21/07/2018