This Dam in the Amazon is Threatening Entire Ecosystems

On February 8, 2021, dam operator Norte Energia received permission from IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, to reduce the flow of the country's Xingu River for at least a year. The diverted water will power electricity-generating turbines, reducing the river's flow to less than 30% of average historical annual flow rates at the 130-km (81-mile) stretch called the Volta Grande.

Those opposing the dam's extreme flow reduction say it violates Brazil's 1988 constitution, which states hydroelectric plants cannot impact Indigenous lands. It also appears to be a violation of a previous government decree that protects cultural practices such as fishing.

Once a year during the breeding season, fish travel along the river into the deeply flooded areas of the forest where they feed and spawn. Experts say the reduction and redirection of water flow will leave 70% of normally flooded forest dry and disrupt the reproductive windows of these fish. This affects the livelihood of local fishers, as well as people who depend on fish for food.

In response to criticism around the reduced flow, conservation news org Mongabay reports that Norte Energia said it is funding projects to mitigate the impacts on the fish population. These include initiatives that feed the fish and release captive-bred fish into the river. However, scientists say these tactics are ineffective because they don't address the loss of seasonal flooding, upon which the fish depend.

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