Cascadas de las Animas (Fri., 3/13/09) – Adios, Cascadas

A look back at our three days along the Maipo.

As we leave Cascadas de las Animas, I have a few contrarian thoughts about the experience.  The last three days have been both enjoyable and rewarding from an eco-tourista perspective.  However, one of the over-riding questions that has been posed and discussed during our visit is the use of the Maipo River for hydro-power.  Of course, the owners of Cascadas are opposed and on the surface we DELsters are too.  After all, this is such a beautiful spot—a haven from the bustle of Santiago—with potential for years of use for natural purposes.  Rafting, trekking, hiking, camping, etc., are all pursuits we want to enjoy in perpetuity but at what cost?  The utilitarian in me has to ask what are the trade-offs and who benefits the most.  Chile, as explained to us, has significant energy issues.  It lacks coal, oil or natural gas reserves and does not have a nuclear energy program.  Its agreement for Bolivian natural gas pumped through Argentina is problematic and an LNG terminal is years away.  What it does have is fast-running water—water that obviously provided one of the highlights of our stay at Cascadas but water that also will turn a turbine to power a magnet that will service a grid.  How many benefit from the rapids and how many from the electricity?

This is not an all or nothing question.  Hopefully, we can do both.  Preserve the Cascadases of the world while also supplying energy to modern cities.  But the trade-offs are not always clear or easy.

Hopefully, that is what our DEL program is all about.  We don’t “manage” the environment per se but rather understand what the trade-offs should be in our modern world and help craft decisions that protect the environment but yet provide us with a comfortable living standard.  We don’t want to mortgage our environmental future for the sake of today’s conspicuous consumption for when the Maipo is gone, it’s gone forever.  But by the same token we and the folks in Santiago would like a dependable light switch in the room we enter.  How we untie that Gordian Knot is the task ahead.