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Barra Grande Dam on River Pelotas, Brazil


The Barra Grande Hydroelectric Plant is currently running up on the border between the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. It was built and is operating by the Brazilian business consortium called Barra Grande Energetica S/A (BAESA Inc), which includes the US aluminum giant ALCOA. The participation of ALCOA in this project is not surprising given that the aluminum industry is the world’s largest industrial consumer of electrical energy, using about 1% of all the electrical energy generated globally, and about 7% of world industrial consumption. In the case of Brazil, the aluminum industry accounts for roughly 8% of the country’s total electricity use.

For the formation of the reservoir, an area of approximately 8,140 hectares was flooded, 90% of which is covered by primary forest.

The Environmental Impact Assessment and a related Environmental Impact Report (EIA/Rima) is the document required by Brazilian law for the concession of environmental licenses for this type of activity. In this case, the EIA/Rima didn´t inform that more than half of the flooded area consisted of remnants of the Mata Atlântica Forest.

Moreover, The corporations violated the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by utilizing an environmental impact assessment conducted by the company Engevix Engenharia S.A. in 1999.

As a signatory to the OECD Guidelines, Brazil must prevent its environmental laws from being indiscriminately violated. Despite being aware of the fraudulent nature of the assessment, the Baesa Consortium went ahead with the exploration and used the flawed assessment to justify its disregard for its commitments to sustainable development.

The Brazilian Federal Constitution, in Article 225, § 4, declared that the Mata Atlântica ecosystem is a National Heritage, a status which brings it under special protection by the law. According to Federal Decree No 750/1993, cutting, exploitation and removal vegetation in primary and advanced secondary regeneration stages in the Mata Atlântica ecosystem are expressly forbidden. Therefore, under Brazilian law it would not be possible to grant the environmental licenses for the construction of the Barra Grande Dam.

Given the illegality of the granting of environmental licenses, a number of NGO have joined for public civil action lawsuit, aiming to stop the work and discuss the real impacts of that project.

BAESA never denied the irregularities and established an extrajudicial agreement with IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources- the government department responsible for monitoring and granting the environmental license), whereby committed as compensatory measures and mitigation of environmental damage. This agreement had the approval of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, of the Environment Ministry, of the Attorney General of Nation and of the Federal Public Ministry.

The court ignored the statutory forbiddance of deforestation on the grounds that the work of the dam was almost completed, and that too much money has already been invested; moreover, they argued that the agreement made between the entrepreneur and the consortium of environmental enforcement department was enough robust, thus allowing the cutting of the forest and flood of that area.

Finally, we can still highlight the popular mobilizations against the dam during this conflict. The SOS Rio Uruguay Movement opposed the implementation of the dam; it held a protest in Porto Alegre against the decision authorizing the operation of Barra Grande Hydroelectric Plant.

The Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) also organized protest actions, especially in a claim that the wood removed from the forest was not used for the construction of houses for the affected population, as BAESA promised.

However, the most hard-hitting action was the lawsuit promoted by NGOs, as they had sufficient legal arguments for the work interruption and cancellation of environmental licenses granted based on fraudulent EIA. However, such arguments were not found robust enough by the court.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Barra Grande Dam on River Pelotas, Brazil
State or province:Rio Grande do Sul e Santa Catarina
Location of conflict:Celso Ramos
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Installed power: 500 to 1000 MW

Power generation: 3.334.056 MWh/ year

Flooded area: 50 a 100 km²

For the formation of the reservoir, an area of approximately 8,140 hectares was flooded, 90% of which is covered by primary forest. The area is also covered by forests at different stages of regeneration, among which 4235.50 hectares of forest of Araucaria which is a threatened species component of the Mata Atlântica (Forest). Out of this total area, the amount of 2077.45 hectares was primary vegetation and the remaining 2158.50 hectares of secondary forest in an advanced stage of regeneration.

The Mata Atlântica ecosystem is composed by a mosaic of forest formations with little more than 7% of the original forest cover, which is highly fragmented due to the predominantly coastal land occupation in Brazil.

The Mata Atlântica is an area of great biological diversity who has beyond 20,000 plant species, about 849 species of birds, 370 species of amphibians, 200 species of reptiles, 270 of mammals and about 350 species of fish, many of wich are threatened with extinction.

Project area:8,140,00
Level of Investment:623,000,000.00
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/09/2004
End of the conflict:03/11/2009
Company names or state enterprises:Camargo Corrêa Cimentos S/A from Brazil - shareholder
DME Energética Ltda from Brazil - Shareholder
Companhia Brasileira de Alumínio from Brazil - Shareholder
Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) from United States of America - shareholder
Companhia Paulista de Força e Luz from Brazil - Shareholder, power generation
Engevix Engenharia S.A. from Brazil - The company conducted the EIA
Votorantim Group from Brazil
Relevant government actors:Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA); Ministry of Mines and Energy; Environment Ministry; Attorney General of Nation; Federal Public Ministry (Federal Prosecutors); National Electric Energy Agency
International and Finance InstitutionsBanco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES) from Brazil - Financer
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Rede de ONG´s da Mata Atlântica (RMA), Federação de Entidades Ecologistas Catarinenses (FEEC), Instituto AquaBios, Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB), Associação de Preservação do Meio Ambiente do Alto Vale do Itajaí (APREMAVI)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
The Movement of Populations Affected by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens – MAB) and Land of Rights (Terra de Direitos) have filed a complaint with the OECD’s National Contact Point for Brazil (OECDWatch)


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Land dispossession


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:This is definitely not a case of successful environmental justice because despite all the illegality committed by the consortium entrepreneur the dam was built and is operating. The economic argument won against environmental legislation.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Rosa, Michel Fernandes da (2012). A relação entre ser humano e natureza sob a influência da modernidade observada através do direito : estudo a partir do caso da usina hidroelétrica Barra Grande. Coimbra. Dissertação de Mestrado em Sociologia, apresentada à Faculdade de Economia da Universidade de Coimbra.*por?/arosa%2C+michel/arosa+michel/1%2C1%2C2%2CX/l856&FF=arosa+michel+fernandes+da&2%2C%2C2%2C1%2C0

Prochnow, M. (2005) Org.. Bara Grande: a hidrelétrica que não viu a floresta. Rio do Sul

ENGEVIX (1997). Relatório de Impacto Ambiental (RIMA): UHE Barra Grande.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

About Atlantic Forest

Dossiê Barra Grande - documentos/pareceres/cartas.

Observatório Sócio-Ambiental de Barragens


Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video about Barra Grande Dam Conflict

Photo shoots of the deforested area (before and after the flood), endangered species, popular mobilizations and affected people

Other documents

application of the lawsuit Full text of the application of the public civil action lawsuit

application of the lawsuit Full text of the application of the public civil action lawsuit

application of the lawsuit Full text of the application of the public civil action lawsuit

EIA/Rima The Environmental Impact Assessment and its Environmental Impact Report

Meta information

Contributor:Michel Fernandes da Rosa
Last update26/05/2014