Community photo protecting the Dulcepamba River

By Emily Conrad, Dulcepamba River, Ecuador

On the western slope of the Andes in Ecuador, 140 campesino and indigenous communities have been resisting activities of the hydroelectric company, Hidrotambo S.A., since 2004. Complicit government agencies have allowed the company to monopolize the water in the ~500 square kilometer Dulcepamba River basin, decimate the River’s aquatic life, destroy private property, criminalize community leaders, and cause devastating flooding and erosion in the small farming community of San Pablo de Amalí.  

Government Ruling Addresses Human and Nature’s Rights Violations… On Paper

In October 2019, Ecuador’s national water authority revised Hidrotambo’s water authorization to respect the constitutionally prioritized water rights of the 140 communities located upstream of the hydroelectric facility and increased the required environmental flow needed to sustain aquatic life in the Dulcepamba River. To meet these higher priority water needs, the water authority reduced the hydro company’s water authorization to close to zero in the dry season, effectively prohibiting the hydroelectric plant’s operation during four to five months of the year. The ruling also requires Hidrotambo to redesign its intake facility within six months and rebuild it within two years to reduce erosion and flood risk that the construction poses to the San Pablo de Amalí community. Thus far, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment and Water has not enforced compliance with its ruling and Hidrotambo has ignored the ruling completely; the hydroelectric company continues to leave over 3 kilometers of the Dulcepamba River with barely a trickle during the dry season and continues to cause erosion and flooding during the rainy season.

Marcelo Mata, Ecuador’s Minister of Environment and Water listens to Billy Navarrete, Executive Secretary of the Comité Permanente Defensa Derechos Humanos (CDH), who demanded immediate action to enforce compliance of hydroelectric company Hidrotambo S.A., which continues to commit human rights and nature’s rights violations.

After 17 Months of Inaction, Minister Vows to Enforce Ruling

On Wednesday, March 24, 2021, Dulcepamba Watershed community representatives, accompanied by human rights and environmental organizations, met with the Minister of Environment and Water, Marcelo Mata, in the city of Guayaquil. The Minister committed to providing the affected communities with the Compliance Control Report that the communities requested in November 2020. Furthermore, the Minster committed to taking measures to enforce compliance with the October 2019 ruling controlling Hidrotambo within 24 hours.

Will Violations Finally Be Corrected? Or Is This Just Another Empty Promise?

International Rivers joins the Dulcepamba Watershed communities and human rights and environmental organizations around the world in continued vigilance of Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment and Water to ensure follow through with its commitments and responsibilities to protect the Dulcepamba River and its watershed communities by controlling the activities of Hidrotambo S.A.

Featured image: Dulcepamba Watershed community representatives and lawyers from the Fundación Regional de Derechos Humanos (INREDH), the Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos, and the Dulcepamba Project in front of Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment and Water’s office in the city of Guayaquil.