Myanmar To Complete Construction Of Controversial Dam

Facing heavy opposition from local groups and environmentalists, Myanmar’s government has approved the construction of dam that would flood and destroy a large area of land. The dam, currently under construction, is being built to supplement the country’s electricity needs.

Electric Power Minister Zaw Min states the dam “will finish this project within eight years, and I will answer ‘No’ to the question of the environmental groups who asked, ‘Will the project be stopped?'” He says the dam is being built for the interest of the country and its people.

The ongoing construction of the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River has raised concerns from environmental, social, and ethnic groups. Located in the Mizoram-Manipur-Kachin rain forest region, environmental groups argue that the dam will not only destroy the river, but also an area of great biodiversity. The dam is expected to submerge an area about the size of Singapore and nearly 800 square kilometers of rain forest. Additionally, social and ethnic groups say that historical Kachin churches, temples, and cultural sites will be flooded by water if the dam is completed.

Environmentalists also argue that the dam will also decrease the river’s ability to carry nutrients to the Irrawaddy Delta, where the country sources most of its rice. An estimated 60% of Myanmar’s rice is produced in the Irrawaddy Delta.

The dam, which will be the largest in Myanmar if completed, is capable of generating about 6,000 megawatts of electricity. Currently, the country uses 1,500 megawatts of electricity, and any excess electricity can be exported to other countries. So, in addition to this dam, the country may need to install power transmission lines to export the electricity generated from the dam. In an area considered to be a top eco-tourism destination, with its natural scenery and home to rare and exclusive wildlife, the addition of unsightly power lines could taint the conservational image of the county.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on Myanmar and China to reconsider the project. She says the Irrawaddy is the “the most significant geographical feature of our country”, and the dam has already forced 12,000 people from 63 villages to move out of the area. The government, however, has reported a much smaller number: only 2,146 people from five villages were displaced.

Officials believe the claims of these groups are exaggerated. Zaw Min argues that current dams and hydropower sites operating in the country are still healthy and flowing and, at the same time, generating electricity.

Zaw Min does acknowledge that the dam may have possible negative impacts but also believes it will yield a great benefit to the country. The few people that will be negatively impacted will do so for the good of the country. Says Zaw Min, “There are a few bad things, such as there will be no place for the biodiversity and the people will be displaced because of the reservoirs, etc. But we have to compare this with the national benefits which we will get from the project. After we reduce those bad things, the project will definitely affect positively the 50-60 million people of the country.”

Unfortunately for officials and supporters of the dam, the economic benefits of the dam does not justify the possible harm it could bring to the river and the people, as shown by the great number of those steadfastly opposing and campaigning against the completion of the dam. From organizations to scientists, the Irrawaddy River is much more beloved to the country than any economic benefits. For instance, a petition entitled “From Those who Wish the Irrawaddy to Flow Forever” and backed by thousands of politicians, journalists, writers, artists, and film directors was sent to President Thein Sein.

Many believe the government is ignoring the true concerns of the people. Says Myat Thu, who campaigns for the preservation the Irrawaddy River, “They [the government] said that they represent the people. That’s why they have to respect the voice of the people. If the voice of the people is different from theirs, they have to change.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/sarahdepper/3899578554/

Los Angeles River Kayaking Trip Planned This Summer

Pending approval by the Army Corps of Engineers, environmental and activist groups will be allowed to lead rafting trips along a 3-mile stretch on the Los Angeles river.

Lined with tons of concrete, the river was channelized by the Army Corps of Engineers after a series of floods that caused hundreds of deaths and over $1 billion worth of damage. Today, the river has a largely negative image. Bounded by fences and marred with graffiti, trash, and questionable water quality, some parts of the river look like a giant sewer. At one point, the Army Corps of Engineers even deemed sections of the Los Angeles river “not worthy of protecting.”

Enter George Wolfe, one of the many activists determined to revitalize the LA river. In 2008, he led a group of fellow kayakers down the entire 51-mile river. After successfully traveling the length of the river, the Environmental Protection Agency overturned the Army Corp’s opinion that the LA river was not qualified to be protected by the Clean Water Act.

Politicians and the public also became increasingly interested in the river after Wolfe’s expedition. Councilman Ed Reyes is proposing to remove laws banning non-motorized boating on the LA river.

However, whether or not the proposal passes, Wolfe has already taken steps to make this experience available to the general public, which may be available as early as July 8th. He has already requested permission from the Army Corps and once approved, Wolfe’s LA River Expeditions will be licensed and permitted to operate a rafting program on a 3-mile section of the river. Tickets for the program are tentatively priced at $50. However, for youth groups in San Fernando Valley, the admission would be free on Fridays.

The program is also supported by the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority who will provide park rangers trained in search and water rescue techniques and ensure the safety of program participants. The rangers will be equipped with ropes and a portable defibrillator.

Wolfe hopes the program will be successful enough to expand to other scenic parts of the river. For example, Wolfe has his eye on Glendale Narrows, a scenic 8-mile stretch of river north of downtown LA.

Besides Wolfe, Heather Wylie is another important figure in the restoration of the LA river. Originally a biologist working for the Army Corps of Engineers, she was part of the kayaking expedition Wolfe led in 2008. Her participation in the expedition, her love for nature, and her differing views with her employer ultimately cost Wylie her job and $60,000 yearly salary.

Joining as a civilian worker for the Army Corps in 2004, Wylie was responsible for assessing the impact development projects would have on protected waterways. In one incident, when she requested developers to change their plans, the Army Corps removed her from the project.

Wylie continued on working for the Army Corps even though she believed sticking to her beliefs would probably cost her her job. Says Wylie, “They would have eventually pushed me out of the corps but I wanted to stay until I did something really good.”

That “something really good” came when she discovered the word “navigability” and uncovered the Army Corps’s plans to remove the Clean Water Act’s protection of the LA river. Upon this discovery, she revealed this information to environmental firms. She also came across a video of Wolfe kayaking through the LA river, which led her to find Wolfe and, ultimately, join the 2008 expedition. Fellow kayakers gave Wylie the nickname “the Coyote.”

If this program proves to be successful, the LA river can be something the city can be proud of, instead of a trash filled, concrete channel. And although it would be a while before most people would even think of swimming in it, initiating this program is a good start and presents many future opportunities for the city.

Instead of being in a car and sitting in traffic, people might soon be able to commute via the Los Angeles River.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/troubleshots/219743136/

Ruling Allows Adventurers to Raft the Los Angeles River

LOS ANGELES, August 2 (GreenAnswers Staff) —  Mention the Los Angeles River and maybe the image of Arnold Schwarzenegger being chased through its concrete embankments by a speeding 18-wheeler driven by the Terminator-1000 comes to mind? Or maybe you envision the car race from the movie Grease? Or maybe you didn’t even know that a major river flows through the heart of America’s second biggest city?

Either way, there is a scene on the LA River that is even more unbelievable that just recently took place. That scene is of a group of outdoor enthusiasts partaking on a river rafting adventure right through the heart of the City on the Los Angeles River.

When the EPA recently designated the 51 mile LA River as a “navigable waterway,” a legal grey area emerged. Normally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the LA County Department of Public Works restrict access to the river. However, after the EPA’s ruling, it became unclear what exactly was allowable on the river. As a result, a group called LA River Expeditions recently took a group of naturalists and reporters, on a four hour guided kayak excursion down the river.

The float trip included three meandering “lush and tranquil” miles through the Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley and six “sporty” miles of Class-I rapids on the Glendale Narrows near Griffith Park and Dodger Stadium. 

If the EPA and other agencies with jurisdiction allow the trips to continue, LA River Expeditions intends to make these tours a regular occurrence.

Of course, accessing the LA River was not always such an extraordinary act. Like most cities, Los Angeles was built where it is because of the river’s presence. And in 1930, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr, the son of the architect of New York’s Central Park, proposed that the LA River play a similar function for the City of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the Great Depression intervened and the city and its developers did not want to forgo the profits to be made by developing the river’s banks. Then, in 1938 a massive flood killed 85 people along the river in Compton, sealing the river’s fate to be locked inside concrete flood channels and closed to the public.

However, with the EPA’s recent ruling, and the efforts of river activists such as LA River Expeditions and The River Project, there is now hope that this river running through the heart of LA may once again be accessible to the city that it gave birth to.

Photos via LA River Expeditions

Video via LA Times