The Futaleufú River: An advance toward new protection status

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 The Futaleufu River. Photo: Vicky KatrinThe Futaleufu River. Photo: Vicky Katrin
By Paula Fernandez
Earlier this month, the town of Futaleufú kicked off the tourist season with a special event in town, but it was the official hand off to government officials of an application for a “reserva de caudal” for the Futaleufu River - a designation under Chile’s water laws that would effectively mean the government in Santiago will set aside the river for tourism and conservation uses - that was the real news of the day.
In town to receive the petition from the Futaleufu community was Rodrigo Sanhueza, the director general of Chile’s national water agency (DGA). The mayor of Futaleufú, Alejandro Avello, and numerous other local and regional officials as well as representatives from varied citizen organizations in the local community, witnessed this historic official request by the town, which aims to ensure the free flow of the Futaleufu River for tourism, recreational and cultural activities and put up a new barrier to any possible future hydroelectric threat to this river.
On receiving the application for the "reserva de caudal" (free flow reserve in English) from Futaleufu leaders, Sanhueza commented that he was appreciative that the initiative arises from a public-private alliance, and is being pushed primarily by the local community, which bodes well for its eventual approval. He said his visit has been "an experience that allows us to read what is being sought in the territory, understanding the reasons and motives behind it."
“We see that the river is part of the history of Futaleufú, of its identity, and that is why we are very happy to accompany this path in its protection. This is not only important for Futaleufú but for all the basins and watersheds of the country, a task in which we are all called to collaborate, and we will put all our talent and desire to carry out this mission," said Sanhueza.
Town leaders at the Futaleufú River “reserva de caudal” application ceremony on Dec. 3. Photo: Vicky KatrinTown leaders at the Futaleufú River “reserva de caudal” application ceremony on Dec. 3. Photo: Vicky Katrin
The study submitted to the national water authority includes the uses, values and threats recognized by key stakeholders in the governance of the Futaleufú River. This information, complemented by analysis of public policies and a community survey of river perception, made it possible to evaluate the main flow protection tools available as a result of the modifications to the Codigo de Aguas ("Water Code," Chile's water law). Sanhueza added that "this year the law was modified and made it possible to generate flow reserves with an ecosystemic vision, for supplying the population and in sufficient quantity considering various uses not previously contemplated. This is relevant given the drought and water scarcity situations, which are no longer exclusive to the northern regions of the country, but are coming to pass throughout the territory, where institutions and citizens are closely linked in seeking joint solutions."
Paulo Urrutia, conservation coordinator of Futaleufú Riverkeeper, told Patagon Journal that it has been a long process. "Since Endesa handed over the water rights of the Futaleufú River, the interest in advancing its official protection has always been there, but with the 2005 reform and the recently approved 2022 reform, new opportunities have opened up to advance along these lines.”
Urrutia adds that he is especially encouraged by the reception the Chilean water authorities have given to their request so far. “The DGA (Chilean water agency) has been key in this process because they have been willing to listen to the interests of the community.”
Urrutia and Futaleufu Riverkeeper say they are optimistic that the Futaleufú River may now be on the path to joining other rivers in Chile's Los Lagos region, like the Puelo River, in making this region perhaps the home to the country's most protected rivers.

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