This is being seen as a great victory for environmentally-concerned residents who for months have been calling for a halt to the constru...
This is being seen as a great victory for environmentally-concerned residents who for months have been calling for a halt to the construction of Saltos de Francolin’s Planeta I hydroelectric facilities on the Rio Chiriquí, as well as challenging the company’s moral right to divert the community’s river for private profit. They are also calling for a complete survey of the provinces fresh water resources to be carried out.
“So far 46 hydroelectric concessions have already been granted in Chiriquí which won’t leave much water for agriculture and livestock,” said Alvarez Martinez, representative from Rovira. “What is the point of reducing the cost of food when we’re giving away our water and limiting our abilities to produce more?”
A representative of the Planeta 1 plant said that the awarding of too many hydroelectric concessions is a national problem, not a problem for Saltos de Francoli. Neither Chiriquí nor Panama has a comprehensive inventory of fresh water resources, or a plan for their future use, so the rivers are literally up for grabs.
According to the terms of concessions already awarded, hydroelectric companies can use up to 90 per cent of water to generate electricity, leaving just 10 percent for human use, including drinking water, agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, recreation and other uses. The law has it backwards. It should be the needs of the people first and then whatever is left over can be used for industry,” said Jorge Moreno Rios, president of the Environmentalist’s Association of Chiriquí.
“When there are local water shortages in the summer it will be the government who has to bring in water trucks to meet our needs. The hydroelectric companies are not going to pay for that.”
The representative of Rovira said that the water situation: “is not just a problem for Dolega but for the whole of the republic of Panama. While we are struggling with one project in Dolega elsewhere they are building two or three more plants,” he said.
He called on legislators nationwide to unite to make changes to the law governing the way water concessions are awarded. “Just as they are reorganizing the civil service, so they need to look at the way ANAM has licenses to sell water. They need to see what is coming in the future. They need to get motivated and to do it quickly because every day that passes the situation gets worse.”
Moreno Rios was also critical of ANAM.“This agency is not doing what it ought to do which is to fight for the conservation of the environment. People see ANAM as a sales outlet for our natural resources.” He criticised ANAM for rubber stamping flawed environmental impact assessments and failing to investigate proposed projects in the field.
Representatives of Saltos de Francoli said that their environmental impact assessment was carried out correctly and that the company has always operated within the law. “We are willing to work with local citizens to find peaceful solutions to their grievances. We are requesting permission from ANAM to set up tree nurseries and we plan to fix the road once the heavy work is finished. We want to do everything properly,” they said.
Chiriquí’s Governor, Enrique Fernandez, had the last word. “I am a green Governor. I believe in the environment.”