The construction of a pulp and paper factory, Celulosa Aurauco S.A., using highly toxic chemicals next to the riverbed of the Cruces River, which is the essential water source for the whole valley and the nearby RAMSAR Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary, caused an immediate wave of protests from local communities and environmental associations, struggling to safeguard the Protected Areas extraordinary biodiversity.
A report contracted by the Chilean government to the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia found that the companys pollution was responsible for rapid ecological change in the wetlands. The population of Black-necked Swans did not recover after 2004. An international commission with the World Wildlife Fund ratified the findings. Scientists on the pay of CELCO disputed the causality between the cellulose plant pollution and the swan population decline but the courts decision of July 2013 has clarified the facts.
The Citizen Movement Action Group for the Swans, the Lonko Council of Pikunwijimapu, the Tralco Indigenous Community and the Steel Workers Trade Union Association of Valdivia filed lawsuits in 2004: one was a criminal investigation at the Prosecutor’s Office in Valdivia and the other a legal petition to the Council of State Defence.
In July 2013 a civil court in Valdivia found CELCO guilty for pollution in the River Cruces, events that had happened after the factory opened in 2004.
Lucio Cuenca of OLCA said on 31 July 2013 that with this court decision, CELCO should close down the factory: "Con este categórico fallo, Celco debería cerrar su proyecto". After reviewing the eight year fight against Celulosa Arauco y Constitución (Celco) in Valdivia, the pollution in the River Cruces and the death of Black-necked Swans, OLCA celebrated the court decision.
Keywords: water pollution, Protected Areas, wildlife, cellulose production