CONTEXT:

The São Manoel Hydroelectric Power Plant is the last in a cascade of four large dams on the Teles Pires River in western Brazil. At 700 MW, São Manoel is the second largest dam in the cascade on the 1370 km long Teles Pires River, which joins the Jurena River to form the Tapajós, an important tributary to the Amazon. The river forms part of the Tapajós Basin, an area equivalent to the size of Spain that has been targeted for hydropower generation with a total of 43 large dams and over 100 smaller hydro projects either under construction or planned—the most of any Amazon sub-basin. The area where the São Manoel dam was built has been inhabited by Indigenous Peoples, including the Munduruku, Kayabi and Apiaká, for millennia.

PROJECT IMPACTS:

The biodiversity impacts of the São Manoel dam are significant, particularly when considering the dam’s contribution toward the wider cumulative impacts of multiple dams on the river. Many Amazonian fish live in limited ranges and have adapted to flow, depth, temperature, sediment and oxygen levels; all of which are changed by dams. When rivers are dammed, migrators have trouble spawning upstream and juvenile fish cannot make their way back downstream. Moreover, habitats such as flooded forests that are essential for fish feeding and reproduction are seriously disrupted or eliminated.

IMPACTS ON INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

The Teles Pires River and its tributaries are the principal drinking and food sources for Indigenous Peoples. The construction of the São Manoel dam has deteriorated the water quality, causing local people to suffer from gastrointestinal problems. The dam has decreased populations of migratory fish which are “the most important source of protein for regional human populations.” CTG notes that the dam operator “has formulated environmental programs...to monitor and protect fish in the river where the power station is located.”

The São Manoel dam has destroyed two sacred spaces of fundamental cultural value to the Munduruku, Kayabi and Apiaka. These spiritual spaces are also important areas of biodiversity- Dekuka’a (Mountain of the Monkeys) is where the animal spirits live and Karobixexe (the Seven Falls Waterfall) is said to be inhabited by spirits including the “Mother of Fish” and the spirits of ancestors. CTG notes that the dam operator has instituted several corporate social responsibility activities, such as building schools and sports fields.

Biodiversity Snapshot

The São Manoel dam is located in the Tapajós Basin, one of eight areas of Amazonian biological endemism, where many species are found nowhere else on earth. The area is so rife with biodiversity that researchers continue to discover new plants, animals, birds and fish. The Teles Pires River is especially important in terms of fish biodiversity, which has been severely impacted by the São Manoel dam and three upstream dams that were built concurrently.

ENDANGERED

 White-cheeked spider monkey

 Tucuxi dolphin

Pink dolphin

THREATENED

Oncilla

VULNERABLE

Giant armadillo

Giant anteater

Project Impacts

LESSONS

Dam on the biodiversity-rich Teles Pires River in the Amazon jeopardizes important species and violates the rights of Indigenous Peoples who have long been stewards of the area’s lands and rivers.

Mundurku representative presents key threats to river protection at the alternative forum to the World Hydropower Congress

Image by International Rivers

Teles Pires River

Image by International Rivers

Workshop at Teles Pires River

Image by International Rivers

Biodiversity Snapshot

The São Manoel dam is located in the Tapajós Basin, one of eight areas of Amazonian biological endemism, where many species are found nowhere else on earth. The area is so rife with biodiversity that researchers continue to discover new plants, animals, birds and fish. The Teles Pires River is especially important in terms of fish biodiversity, which has been severely impacted by the São Manoel dam and three upstream dams that were built concurrently.

ENDANGERED

 White-cheeked spider monkey

 Tucuxi dolphin

Pink dolphin

THREATENED

Oncilla

VULNERABLE

Giant armadillo

Giant anteater

Company: China Three Gorges

Impact Category

Indigenous Peoples

Impact Category

Food Security

CAPACITY

700 MW

COST

$490 million​

STATUS

Operational since Sept. 2017

Local Community Impact​

Given the location on indigenous land, the dam threatens indigenous rights and indigenous populations were not consulted. In 2017, 200 representatives from various Munduruku villages peacefully occupied the main work camp of the São Manoel dam to try and stop construction of the dam.

1.

Engaging from an early stage with indigenous communities should include the requirement to secure their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent on significant decisions that affect their territories and rights.

2.

Companies should require that cumulative impact assessments be carried out on all projects with multiple other dams either existing or planned on the same river. These assessments should prescribe specific actions to mitigate harms on biodiversity and ensure steps are taken to permit fish migration.

3.

Assessments should have been conducted in accordance with principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity which recognizes the “close and traditional dependence of many indigenous communities on biological resources” and their sustainable and equitable sharing of natural capital.