Brazil: court blocks mega-hydro to protect Pantanal

A Brazilian federal judge on Aug. 23 ruled that permits for more than 120 proposed hydro-electric dams in the Upper Paraguay River Basin cannot be issued without first conducting environmental impact assessments, dealing a blow to a major thrust of development planned for the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. The ruling comes in response to a request from state and federal prosecutors in Mato Grosso do Sul, who petitioned the 1st Federal Court in Coxim for an injunction suspending construction of 126 new dams in the Pantanal, a vast region of wetlands in the basin. The ruling also impacts 20 already operating hydro plants, which will be able to continue running under their current licenses, but must submit to an impact study before seeking license renewals. Utilities must seek approval for the studies from the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) as well as state authorities before the projects can move ahead.

One of the world’s largest wetlands, the Pantanal covers some 200,000 square kilometers  near Brazil’s borders with Bolivia and Paraguay, providing habitat for caimans, jaguars, tapirs,  giant otters, giant anteaters, capybaras, hyacinth macaws and jabiru storks. The expansion of hydroelectric generation in the upper basin has brought an increase in industry, agriculture and settlements, resulting in increases in deforestation, soil erosion, changes in water quality and reduced fisheries  in both the upper and lower Paraguay River basins. (MidiaMax, Matto Grosso do Sul, Aug. 26; Jornal Nortão, Rondônia, Aug. 25; Environment News Service, EcoAgência, Brazil, Aug. 23)