REPORT #636 May 2003

Produced by Ray Auxillou

The debate on the Chalillo Dam reservoir and electric production facility has gone on for years now. Including a few court cases.

The government says that we need the dam in Belize to produce electricity. It saves foreign exchange and gives us a small portion of our capability to produce our own electricity from hydro power. There are many sites throughout Belize and for present population levels as we grow in population, many more river sites will eventually be developed. Hydro electricity replaces imported diesel engines, imported oil and imported electricity from Mexico which cost us a large part of our very limited foreign exchange earnings. Even one small hydro facility such as this, saves us money from our foreign exchange earnings. There is talk about sugar cane bagasse electricity; but so far, the private sector has not done anything much about it. There are complaints that the private sector cannot legally produce electricity in competition with a quasi foreign monopoly. So far, no private sector groups other than the 'Belize Development Trust' have offered any white papers, or tried to drum up public support to change such legislation. Position papers and recommended legislative changes need a public ground swell of support. Nobody so far, is lobbying for this. In the meantime, the hydro electric Chalillo Dam is proven technology, despite any financial or economic shortcomings. The government choose not to experiment or gamble with tax dollars, but go the route of proven technology in which economic costs and returns can at least be estimated fairly accurately, if not exactly.

The Chalillo Dam is a water reservoir to improve electrical production performance for the Mollejon Dam. It was always on the plans, but due to finances, the full plan takes time to implement over years. There is an argument that the amount of electricity that the Chalillo Dam reservoir will not produce much electricity. By itself this is true! But the same water produces electricity TWICE. When it goes down through the Mollejon Dam turbines a second time. Thus doubling the capacity of this water. Calculations on the amount of electrical production have to include the usage of the same water to produce electricity twice. Or double the electricity. Some argue that water would produce that same electricity anyway, as it goes through the Mollejon dam anyway. This is true, but the mitigating factor is the reservoir aspects. This gives the Mollejon Dam the ability to get a good HEAD, or force for the production of electricity during part of the dry season. Hydro electricity requires velocity, head, volume and height. The actual production and economic advantages are debatable, but it does make us in Belize partially electrical self sufficient. These grounds alone are valid enough reasons to build the reservoir and dam.

Silting has been quoted by the opposition to the Chalillo dam as a problem. Silting will occur, there is no denying that. What amount remains to be seen, but this is an earth dam, and silting widens the base structure and the water is taken from the top, not the bottom. Remember we need HEAD, or HEIGHT to make turbines work.

Geology and earthquakes. Granted that the Canadian government paid geology firm produced a pack of lies on the valley geology. Claiming there was granite when it was sandstone. That is a criminal matter for Canada, not Belize. Either way, the dam can be built as an earthern dam on sandstone.

Cracks in the earth to drain off water. There have been no accurate surveys produced by the opposition to the dam, to prove this is true. But even if it is, the only real question, would be the amount of water loss? It is unlikely to be more than to interfer with the dam's performance. This is one of those nuisance items of cost that accompany any large project.

Earthquakes. This is a serious problem, but an earth dam is not concrete and would not crack. It could shift and settle more, but unlikely to break. This is not a perfect world and we have to work with what we have. Belize demographic growth, the rising standard of living, the material affluence requires more and more electricity. To gain even a bit of self sufficiency is a worthwhile goal. The alternative is to go back to mules and dories using rivers as transportation routes and living in thatch houses, living subsistance without material appliances to improve quality of life. Are the opposition to the dam willing to go back to living in Belize like colonial times? Unlikely!

Mayan ruins. Nobody in the opposition to the dam have shown there to be any Mayan ruins in the area of the proposed dam. This was a trade and agricultural route along the river in ancient Mayan times, but Belize is inundated with old highways of the Maya made of stone and dirt winding through the jungles of the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. There are no temples, nor has anyone discovered any artifacts in caves that would require the site to be preserved required for the dam reservoir. One has to balance the requirements of humans living in Belize here and now in this era, against the historical trade routes of ancient times. To anyone with any sense, the here and now take precedent when there are no presence of temple ruins. In this age of Belize, the population have rising material standards, with washing machines, refrigerators, televisions, computers, fans, cars; all which require oil produced electricity. We must import the oil at a high cost. The dam makes sense to produce electricity to support the higher material living standards people of today enjoy and want.

The dam costs too much and the contracts are too favorable to Fortis. The opposition should be specific and outline and lobby for contractual changes before we start building the dam. Not just block building the dam as losers in the debate. This is a debatable subject. The government argues that inflation makes even a high priced dam today, cheaper to build today, then ten years from now. The sooner we build, the sooner we lock in the construction at todays prices and let inflation eat away the high costs over a couple of decades. Nothing government does is cheap. That is the cost of government. The argument that there may be baksheesh, corruption, sweetheart deals and such are valid and present in every government of any kind anywhere in any country of the world today. That is human nature. The answer is not to damn the dam, or block it; but to persue criminal actions against such things, or vote in elections to change the system. You note that in this last election, the population of Belize had the opportunity to vote for more openness through an elected Senate, more controls and better policing systems with elected police chiefs. The majority voted not for an open more democratic transparent system, but a political patronage system of government, on paternal lines. The people of Belize voted for this and all the warts, pimples and boils that come with such a system. They chose willingly and get what they voted for. Excessive sweatheart deals and baksheesh go along with this as a part of the cost of any government contractual dealing. Even the opposition to the dam people voted for this by the numbers on the voting records. If you object, the answer is to be found against criminal mischief through the court system, such as it is, under this political paternal one party patronage system. Not in blocking the hydro dam reservoir operation. The opposition to the dam are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Corruption is just part of the cost of any government contracts. Controlling the percentage of corruption, is a criminal legal matter for the courts, not blocking progress. Or through political reform, which is a constant thing, or should be in a democratic nation.

Endangered species, to wit: THE SCARLET MACAW

Indeed, in all the arguments against the Chalillo Dam this is probably the most viable. But the government's attitude is to agree with the conservationists and opposition to the dam about the endangered 1500 Scarlet Macaw. It is the duty of the opposition to the dam proponents to garner financial support from NGO's and International Groups with money, to finance the relocation of the Scarlet Macaw breeding grounds. Trees can be replanted, birds can be netted and transferred, all with local labor. All it takes is organization and money. This is the duty of the private sector and the opponents of the Chalillo Dam have so far done nothing, but blow rhetoric. If they are so concerned about the Scarlet Macaw they should get to work fast, because time for construction to start is running out. The opposition to the dam are misguided and should be doing positive moves and so far they are not, as in the example of the saving of the endangered Scarlet Macaw.

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