Tapajós Basin

The Tapajós Basin is a jewel of the Amazon, home to an incredible array of plant and animal biodiversity. A mosaic of protected areas and indigenous lands, the basin is home to approximately 820,000 people, including 10 indigenous groups. The Tapajós and its major tributaries – the Teles Pires, Jamanxim and Juruena rivers – are threatened by an unprecedented series of massive dams and associated industrial waterways (hidrovias) that would flood national parks, indigenous lands and other protected areas, accelerating the destruction of the Amazon Basin.

Brazil hopes to build 3 major dams on the mainstream of the Tapajós River, and a series of additional large and medium-sized dams on its tributaries. This would include four large dams on the Jamanxim River in the state of Pará and five large dams on the Teles Pires River along the border of Mato Grosso and Pará – two of which are already under construction. No serious analysis of the individual and combined impacts of this cascade of dams has been carried out, especially with regard to environmental flows, biodiversity and livelihoods of indigenous peoples. All of these dams would be part of a larger complex of water infrastructure projects in the region, including industrial waterways for transporting agribusiness and mining commodities out of the Amazon rainforest. Much of the electricity from these dams would be used for the expansion of electro-intensive aluminum and iron ore smelters in the region.

In an attempt to greenwash the projects, the Brazilian government is claiming that the seven big hydroelectric projects on the Tapajós and Jamanxim rivers would be built as platform dams – based on the concept of offshore oil platforms – and would therefore have little impact on the environment. These dams together would flood 930 square kilometers of conservation units and national parks. The Chacorão Dam would also flood 187 sq kms of the Mundurucu Indigenous Lands. As this is illegal under Brazilian law, President Dilma is trying to push through measures to unilaterally reduce the boundaries of the protected areas and indigenous lands.

A growing movement of riverbank dwellers and indigenous communities is mobilizing to protest and mount legal challenges and protests against the planned dams and industrial waterways in the Tapajos basin, with support from partners that include public prosecutors, MAB, the progressive Catholic Church, environmental NGOs and International Rivers. We are working to support the movement and propose better options for meeting Brazil’s energy needs.

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