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A River Ran Through It

Amazon environmentalists warn that hydroelectric dams could devastate the world's biggest watershed.

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Photo Credit: Spectral Q/Chico/Paulo

The scores of rivers that feed the Amazon, like so many umbilical cords streaming nutrients downriver, sustain the animals, plants, and people who depend on them. Yet over the next two decades, a 300 percent increase in dam construction—in the Andean region alone—threatens to cut off an ancient life-support system.In a recent study, biologist Clinton Jenkins of North Carolina State University and Matt Finer of the Center for International Environmental Law looked at 151 major hydroelectric dams planned for the six largest Andean tributaries of the Amazon River, spanning Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, and found that a disorganized approach to dam building across the region was likely to cause significant ecological disruption.“It’s surprising—few people are looking at the whole regional perspective, or any of the major threats in the Andean foothills: oil, road development, dams, and mining,” says Jenkins. “So we’ve been trying to systematically go through these sectors and look at the impacts on the whole region.”Hydropower is, on the surface, preferable to burning fossil fuels. Look deeper, and …

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