12 May 2017

Stop killing the river: New documentary on the plight of the Hooded Grebe

A new documentary, Killing the River, reveals how the planned construction of two hydroelectric dams is threatening one of Argentina's rarest birds.

Hooded Grebes are threatened by the construction of two dams © Juan María Raggio
Hooded Grebes are threatened by the construction of two dams © Juan María Raggio
By Irene Lorenzo

"The state created a few years ago a National Park to save the Hooded Grebe from extinction. Today, that same state might sign its death certificate". A story of environmental crime and corruption, a new documentary, Killing the River, reveals how the planned construction of two hydroelectric dams in Santa Cruz River is threatening the ecosystem of Argentina’s last glacial river.

Welcome to the remote lakes of the Patagonian wilderness, adjacent to the Santa Cruz River in Argentina. For hundreds of years, the area was a safe haven for the threatened Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi, especially during their breeding season.

Fertile sediment, carried downstream from the river to the estuary, ensures food availability not only for this iconic species but also for other charismatic birds such as the Magellanic Penguin Spheniscus magellanicus, Chilean Flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis, and Magellanic Plover Pluvianellus socialis; as well as many others like the endangered subspecies of Red Knot Calidris canutus rufa.

Once isolated from human threats, the fate of this unspoiled habitat changed in a matter of months as the government recently proposed the construction of two dams in this pristine river.

If the construction were to continue, the two dams would block natural processes, which would have an impact on river flow and aquatic ecosystems in the area. Food availability downstream would be affected as well, resulting in the loss of wintering habitats for the aforementioned species.

An especially worrying situation for the Hooded Grebe, whose numbers are around 500 breeding pairs and already under pressure from the spread of invasive species.

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Today, the President of Argentina Mauricio Macri lands in Chinese grounds to discuss the construction of these damaging dams, which are linked to foreign investment. A coalition of NGOs is now seeking support to save the country’s last glacial river with the release of the documentary Killing the River (“Matar al río” in Spanish).

Watch the trailer for Killing the River below (also available in Spanish). Full documentary will be made available in June.

The president is expected to deliver today the Environmental Impact Study to his Chinese counterpart, which would enable the construction of the so-called Kirchner and Cepernic hydroelectric dams.

For this reason, the NGO coalition calls for society to alert President Macri before he starts his negotiations with China to stop the controversial project that would affect the habitat of the Hooded Grebe.

Considering that 15 days ago the country launched their Zero Extinction programme, it is incoherent with the government’s environmental plans to continue with the construction. Their list of protected species includes the Hooded Grebe, while they insist on the construction of two dams that would guarantee their extinction. 

"The state created a few years ago a National Park to save the Hooded Grebe from extinction. Today that same state can sign the death certificate of the species", says Hernán Casañas, CEO of Aves Argentinas (BirdLife Partner).

The two major works are currently paralyzed by order of the Supreme Court of Justice for not complying with obligations under the Law of Environmental Impact of Hydraulic Works. If President Macri goes forward with the proposal, he would be taking for granted the fulfillment of a process that is not yet concluded.

Santa Cruz River © NGO coalition

In order to progress with the dams, two fundamental instances are missing: a public hearing and the Environmental Impact Assessment. According to the ruling of the Supreme Court "the magnitude of the project requires a scientifically-proven, socially participatory, balanced and profound reflection".

"Does it makes sense to move forward with two dams that would extinguish the Hooded Grebe, negatively impact other species, destroy an environment and not even solve the energy problem, only because the contract was signed by the previous management? It's time to slow down and rethink the situation", the NGO coalition says.

In legal terms, we’re in still in time to fight the construction but news about the construction having reached the point of no return keep circulating. The NGO coalition wants to remind the public through the documentary that there’s still time to stop the construction. If you want to help, head to Twitter and copy-paste the following message:

“President @mauriciomacri please stop the destruction of Santa Cruz River #RioSantaCruzSinRepresas”.