Disappearing Destinations: 37 Places in Peril and What Can Be Done to Help Save Them

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Aysén Region
MAN VS NATURE: The natural beauty of the Aysén region in Patagonia is being threatened by a power company (courtesy, Patagonia Aysén)
Aysén, Patagonia, Chile

The Río Baker is one of five rivers in the Aysén region of Patagonia that flow uninterrupted from source to sea. Its water trickles from the Northern Ice Field glaciers into the crystalline Lago Bertrand, which forms the river's headwaters near the sleepy village of Puerto Bertrand. From there it meanders for 125 miles through temperate rain forests and wetlands, past farming and ranchland where the population density is fewer than three per square mile. Then it empties into the Pacific amid the fjords and canals of Caleta Tortel, which sits at the edge of the 6,500-square-mile Southern Ice Field and its frozen seas of jagged, bluish peaks.

Downstream from Puerto Bertrand, the landscape shifts as the river flows through a narrow, rocky canyon where the Baker slams into the Río Chacbulco. The confluence is dramatic, powerful, and full of potential—680 megawatts of hydroelectric potential, that is, enough to power more than half a million homes.

In 2004, Spanish power company Endesa announced plans to build two dams along the Río Baker and two on the Río Pascua, in southern Aysén. Together they will produce 2,430 megawatts. The project will provide some short-term construction jobs and a temporary boost to the local economy. It will also inundate up to thirty-six square miles of land, permanently altering the ecology, and turn the upper Baker stagnant.

Published: 17 Jul 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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