The central mountains of the Dominican Republic- home to diverse flora and fauna and the highest peaks in the entire Caribbean- are under threat from the Las Placetas Hydroelectric Complex that the government has authorized. The dam is to be built in the Armando Bermudez National Park, accompanying three reservoirs and a series of connected tunnels, and impacting three critical rivers that enable life across the island, including the Rio Bao, Rio Jagua, and Yaque del Norte.
The rivers are already dammed downstream at another two locations. These dams are in use for hydroelectric power, but get no upkeep, as is the case with many infrastructure projects in Latin America. Instead of working to repair existing infrastructure, the government is promoting this dam project as the biggest in the Caribbean and the biggest generation of “clean” electricity.
This project is being led by the Dominican government but they are letting a Brazilian conglomerate- Andrade Gutiérrez do the dirty work; private investors who could care less for the environment, the people in the communities and the services they will provide to Dominicans. The dam was planned over 12 years ago and over $70 million US dollars have disappeared and the new government wants to restart this project with no community input or environmental impact study. The company has paid many fines for corruption in projects around the world, yet the Dominican government looks the other way. The government is calling the project a public-private initiative to make it sound like a good way to spend public funds.
However, multiple international institutions have highlighted the reality of a project such as this. The Dutch government published a report in April 2021 regarding the state of water in the Dominican Republic and it provides some hard facts about the impact of climate change – placing the DR at number 11 in the world as far as the threat of environmental disasters. As part of this study, it was estimated that rainfall would reduce by 15%, further questioning the success of dams. Additionally, the main river of the DR, Yaque del Norte, which is to feed into the hydroelectric generation, will be reduced by almost a quarter (22%) by 2025. With warming temperatures, there is also expectations that there will be increased evaporation, further reducing the availability of water and therefore efficiency of hydro dams.
Counter to the claims that this development is a “clean” energy source, it is widely acknowledged in the scientific community that dams contribute further greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. methane released from the decomposition of organic matter; cutting of trees that sequester carbon dioxide).
Particularly with rising concerns for climate change, these dams only further contribute to existing issues DR is facing. The central mountains experience heavy logging and cattle production. As a result, the environment and water already suffers from large-scale deforestation, with 40% of the island being deforested over the last 19 years.
Downstream communities have been promised potable water and electricity, yet historically, such promises have not been kept and instead the electricity and water benefits other communities farther away. What is certain is that downstream communities will lose the flow of the river that is critical in farming and fishing, and for providing a source of water for the surrounding environment. Health will also be at risk due to the stagnant waters of the reservoir, such as rising presence of mosquitoes that bring disease, as well as increases in algal blooms that pollute the water.
There are also concerns for seismic activity, as the Central Mountains have experienced earthquakes before. This places downstream communities at even more risk, as such events in other parts of the world have resulted in large-scale death and destruction when dams in unstable areas crack and burst.
The government has spent a lot of money doing construction studies, but has not spent resources on examining the seismic or environmental concerns. Further, the development of dams is in direct contradiction to their recently announced strategies to: 1. Protect and conserve all of the rivers in the Dominican Republic, and 2. Guarantee the rights of humans to have clean water.
There are alternative sources of energy that can be explored first. As well as improving the current inefficient electrical grid and hydroelectric infrastructure. Groups are working together to try to stop the new and shortsighted construction from further damaging the critical environment. The groups are looking for support. Please contact email@example.com to get involved.
For more information, please watch the excellent documentary below:
Information provided by Professor Rafael Brisita for Dam Watch International.