Media Release ~ International Rivers

Global Watchdog Opposes Clutha Dams
International Rivers and CMRP, 23 July 2009

International Rivers' mission is to protect rivers and defend the rights of communities that depend on them. We oppose destructive dams and the development model they advance, and encourage better ways of meeting people’s needs for water, energy and protection from damaging floods. To achieve this mission, we collaborate with a global network of local communities, social movements, non-governmental organizations and other partners.

The large dams proposed by Contact Energy for New Zealand’s Clutha River are unacceptable and unnecessary development options.

World-wide, large hydro dams have devastated river ecosystems and the livelihoods of communities that depend on them. Dam projects are often more harmful than alternative forms of renewable generation, especially when placed across the main artery of a river. Having existing dams on a river, is not in itself justification for further dams, as problems are typically magnified as more large dams are added to a river system, resulting in an increased and cumulative loss of natural resources, habitat quality, environmental sustainability and ecosystem integrity.

Some of the worst impacts of global warming on both people and ecosystems will be felt on water and the hydrological cycle. Some areas will become much drier, some wetter. More extreme floods will threaten the safety of dams, and unprecedented droughts will drastically reduce the hydropower and water supply services that dams are built to provide. Minimizing the impacts of climate change will require moving away from a dependence on large dams for electricity generation and flood control.

The proposed dams at Tuapeka Mouth, Beaumont, Queensberry and Luggate are essentially ‘run of the river’ dams with minimal storage that would not contribute greatly to New Zealand’s energy security. New Zealand’s heavy dependence on hydropower, combined with climate change-induced water storage depletion during dry winters, and a complex distribution network spanning the length of the country, are obvious reasons to avoid compounding these issues with further large hydropower schemes.

It is vital to further diversify and decentralize the energy supply. New Zealand is fortunate to have a range of electricity generation options including wind, geothermal, and marine. These, combined with greater efficiencies in areas such as household insulation, have the potential to provide New Zealand with more than sufficient energy in the long-term.

New Zealand has the best wind energy resources in the world, and yet electricity generation from wind amounts to only 2.5% of installed capacity. By contrast, Denmark generates 20% of its electricity from wind, and Spain will generate 15% of its electricity from wind by 2010.

Marine generation also has the potential to be a major contributor of electricity in New Zealand. Cook Strait is an ideal location for marine generation and distribution. Neptune Energy has estimated that 7000MW could be generated in the Strait, which is almost equivalent to New Zealand’s total annual production.

International Rivers also works to address the legacies of existing projects, to improve development policies and practices, and promote water and energy solutions for a just and sustainable world. The Clutha River has proven to be a complex and challenging environment for dams, as evidenced by the serious siltation issues faced by the Roxburgh Dam, and the stability and seismic safety issues faced by the highly destructive and controversial Clyde Dam. There are serious concerns relating to the safety and sustainability of these existing dams.

Further, the long-term acquisition of some 4000 hectares of land for as yet unconfirmed projects has already had a significant negative impact on river communities by stifling local development.

The Clutha River has extraordinary natural, recreational, tourism and cultural values. The Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group and the Clutha Gold Trail Trust are two local groups working to protect and improve their river resource. These projects offer highly desirable outcomes from both an economic and an environmental perspective, locally and regionally. Authorities are urged to support local river communities in their river park and trail initiatives.

Forming another artificial lake in a region that already has several magnificent lakes, and removing a large wild river, where there are no other such rivers, is not a logical advantage for recreation and tourism. Free flowing rivers like the Clutha are scarce, and offer more recreational and tourism opportunities in their natural state, especially in the unique and spectacular environment that is Central Otago.

River-wrecking dams are the wrong choice for a warming world. There is no practical or ethical justification for further hydro dams on the famous Clutha River.

International Rivers' Statement July 2009 (10.KB)


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