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Yelcho Watershed targeted by Ministry of Energy’s hydro plans, Chile

This Study is threatening at least seven major watersheds with hydro development. If it is allowed to become national Energy policy, it will generate significant conflict in these "sacrifice watersheds"


Chile’s current Minister of Energy is finalizing a Watershed Mapping Study to prioritize hydro development in conflict watersheds. If implemented as policy, the study would facilitate construction of several large dams in the Yelcho Watershed, as well as dams in at least six other major watersheds. In the Yelcho watershed, the company which owns the water rights and would benefit from the policy is Endesa, the same company which dammed the Bio Bio River and was a partner in the HidroAysen project which was defeated in 2014. If the Minister of Energy is allowed to implement the study as national policy, it will make it easier for Endesa to gain approval for building dams in the Yelcho watershed, particularly along the Futaleufu River. The study has produced significant conflict in the Comuna of Futaleufu, which rejects national efforts to sacrifice its rivers for hydropower.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Yelcho Watershed targeted by Ministry of Energy’s hydro plans, Chile
State or province:Provincia de Palena, Region de Los Lagos
Location of conflict:Comunas of Futaleufu, Palena and Chaiten
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Land acquisition conflicts
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Three major waterways in the Yelcho watershed are at risk of being diverted if this study is implemented as policy, as well as rivers in at least six other major watersheds in Chile. While the final results of the study have yet to be released, the most recent hydro project announced in the watershed by Italian-Spanish conglomerate ENEL-Endesa consisted of three large dams totaling 1,390 MW of energy.

Project area:1,098
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectUnknown
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:11/03/2014
Company names or state enterprises:Endesa (Endesa) from Italy - Private actor which controls water rights in the watershed and needs national energy policy to favor construction of large dams.
ENEL Group (Enel) from Italy
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Energy; Ministry of the Environment
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Patagonian Defense Council; Futaleufu Riverkeeper; Ecosistemas; Kayak Stewards Alliance; Fundacion Terram; Futaleufu Mountainfilm; Patagonia Inc.
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Enlistment of filmmakers and celebrities to champion the cause of local communities.
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsDegradation of biological diversity and habitat for endangered species; Impacts to marine ecosystems which depend on nutrient deposits
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsDestruction of major tourism destination
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Proposals for Chile to move towards 100% renewable energies with no new hydro, submitted by the Mesa Ciudadana del Cambio Climatico (Chile), a coalition of over 20 NGOs; Proposals for Chile to establish Wild & Scenic Rivers Designation and permanently protect key waterways in at-risk watersheds, being developed by International Rivers (global) and several local Chilean NGOs and attorneys.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The Watershed Mapping Study is being finalized and will be presented in September 2016. While the methodologies used in the study has created some conflict in the seven watersheds being prioritized for hydro development, the full outcome of the study will only be seen if it is allowed to become national energy policy.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Law No. 1122 of 29.10.1981. El Código de Aguas

Law 20017. Created a royalty or tax applicable to owners of non-consumptive and continuous water rights who fail to utilize the waters. Specifically, the tax applies when owners fail to build infrastructure works to capture and restitute the waters. Law 20,017 provides that if the taxes are not paid, the courts may order the public auction of the respective water rights.

Article 28 of Law 19300. Related with "Community Participation in the Environmental Impact Assessment Process" page. 13

Law 19300 or the Environmental Framework Law, provides the basis for the organisation of environmental laws in Chile. It establishes the regulatory framework for environmental activity in Chile such as the environmental impact assessment system (EIAS), liability for environmental damage, air and water quality and emission standards, and pollution prevention and decontamination plans, among others.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Futaleufu Without Dams!
[click to view]

Fighting for the Futaleufu
[click to view]

Chile´s Global Climate March
[click to view]

Other comments:This is a local, regional, national and global conflict. Several watersheds in Chile are threatened by the same Watershed Mapping Study. These are rivers that deserve protected status, and it is expected that conflicts in Chile surrounding water rights will continue indefinitely until the country establishes new wild & scenic rivers legislation. Please review the map for information on the other watersheds at risk should the study become energy policy.
Meta information
Contributor:Director, Futaleufu Riverkeeper, [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2305
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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