The Ñuble Libre Campaign
The Biobío Region, specifically the commune of San Fabián, in the Cordillera area, is threatened by two projects that intend to interfere with the free passage of the Ñuble river:
- Punilla Reservoir
This public-private project consists of the creation of a reservoir, by means of the construction of a mega-dam of 137 meters in height in the sector La Punilla, 40 km to the east of San Fabián, creating a reservoir 8 km long above the Central de Pasada de Hidroñuble outlet.
The objective of this dam is duo fold. On the one hand, it will serve to accumulate water to increase an additional 22,000 hectares of irrigable land in the communities of San Carlos, Chillán, San Nicolás and others of the zone of the central valley. On the other hand, it intends to generate 94 MW of electricity with a power plant that will take advantage of the height of the dam wall. It is worth asking: in times of drought will water be favored for irrigation or for electricity generation? Could this be a conflict between different interests and stakeholders?
- Central Ñuble de Pasada
Better known as “Hidroñuble”, this run of the river project consists of the construction of a hydroelectric power plant, requiring that the Ñuble River will be dammed (in the area of El Caracol), where a 30 hectare reservoir that will be formed that will drain through the mouth of an induction channel that will permit the flow of 100 m3 /s over 16 km. Arriving in the sector of Las Guardias, the piped water will attain an altitude difference of 150 meters with respect to the river bed, and will be dropped by tubes to the engine room located on the banks of the river. This project, unlike the power plants considered ERNC (Renewable Non-Conventional Energies), that permit maximum flows of 20 MW to be categorized as such, is designed for the generation of 136 MW. The flow of water that will remain in the river for the 25 km of the affected section of bed will be only 8% of the current natural flow. The electrical energy generated in the engine room will be transported by high voltage towers across the valley to join the Central Interconnected System (SIC).
In addition to the above, it will also require the construction of a high voltage line that will transmit the energy produced to the distribution center located 100 km to the north of San Fabián. The installation of this electrical infrastructure will affect the economy and the social structure of the region, in addition to the habitat of the huemul and other threatened species present in the Nuble valley.
In light of these impending projects, the Social Movement for the Defense of the Rio Ñuble has initiated a legal and communication campaign to stop the construction of these projects, because of their environmental and tourism concerns. The social and environmental impact studies were poorly performed, downplaying the enormous consequences of these projects on the community of San Fabián, on the habitat of the Huemul (a species in danger of extinction), on tourism in the area (a growing sustainable economy), and on agriculture in the sector.
During the course of 2015 and 2016, claims, oppositions, complaints and lawsuits have been filed, which led the company that proposed the Hidroñuble plant to withdraw its plan, forcing the project owner to look for new construction and financing companies. On the other hand, the government has already approved and tendered the construction of the Punilla reservoir, which has already been awarded.
The following link presents a brief picture of the environmental conflicts that threaten the Ñuble river valley in San Fabián: