Final Curtain for the Bio Bio
The sad last chapter of the fight against
constructing the Pangue Dam is now playing out. Last fall the Supreme Court of Chile
overturned a lower decision to halt construction, smashing the last hopes to preserve this
world class river experience. The dam is being built.
What will be lost?
The Pangue Dam site is at the foot of a gorge named the Royal Flushan
intense series of major rapids stacked one right after the next. In one steep, narrow,
hydraulic, half mile are: the Acea long, fast curving rapid with humongous holes in
the center; Suicide Kingwhere the entire river narrows to a boat-width, doubles back
on itself and slams into an overhanging cliff; Queen of Heartsan appalling boulder
garden where no two boats ever make quite the same run; and the worst of all, One-eyed
Jackan evil hole field with a huge bedrock island in the middle and no sane or
non-violent run on either side. Immediately below the Jack is a winding, wall-slamming
rapid called the Tennow a severe rapid due to the blasting for Pangue Dam.
All this will be inundated, but equally tragic is the loss upstream. For a
day or so, as you float from the upper gorge to the Flush, you run dozens of rapids (the
sex rapids: Bump, Grind
leading up to Climax). Fun exciting rapids that keep you
pretty wide awake without too much terror. But this is also the land of a thousand
waterfalls. With every turn several more cascades join the Bio Bio, each one engulfed in
nalca (giant rhubarb with leaves up to four feet across), fuschia in full bloom and a
chaos of ferns, moss and other greenery. At the very head of the reservoir, the Termas de
Avellanos, a riverside hot springs named after the local filbert-like nut tree, will go
about ten feet under.
In all, about half the rapids and one third of the 60 or 70 mile run will be
lost. But this is only the beginning. Next comes the Ralco Dam, a few miles above the
Pangue Reservoir. That will knock out the whole upper stretch. And then more.
We had hoped, in fighting this dam, to let the Chilean people know that they
neednt make the same tragic error that we did with places like Glen Canyon and
Flaming Gorge, denying the magic of these places to all foreseeable future generations for
such a short term reward. But it was not to be.
I spent five amazing winters on that river and writing this piece hurts as
much as writing an obituary for a best friend; one that died needlessly in her prime. What
to do? Keep fighting, keep trying. There are organizations like David Browers Earth
Island Institute, that try to help third world countries develop without destroying
themselvesto selectively harvest rather that clear cut; to come up with low impact,
high yield, appropriate long term alternatives, rather than scolding them, No you
cant cut your forests or dam your rivers.
We live at a time when our industrial might has finally overpowered
natures ablity to heal quickly. Once we eradicate ourselves, the planet will put
itself back together in due time, but thats not the point. We owe it to ourselves,
to our children and to the world around us to try and preserve the remaining magic. Keep
up the fight.