, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 1-19
Date: 03 Feb 2005

Brazil’s Samuel Dam: Lessons for Hydroelectric Development Policy and the Environment in Amazonia

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Abstract

Brazil’s Samuel Dam, which formed a 540-km2 reservoir in the state of Rondônia in 1988, provides lessons for development decisions throughout Amazonia and in other tropical areas. The decision to build the dam was heavily influenced by its role in the political strategies of key decision makers. Samuel illustrates both impacts and benefits of electricity supply and the dilemmas facing decision makers regarding the various options for planned electricity generation. Environmental costs included flooding forest and stimulating illegal logging activity throughout western Amazonia because of an exception opened for Samuel in Brazil’s prohibition of export of raw logs. Samuel emitted substantially more greenhouse gases than would have been emitted by generating the same amount of electricity from oil. Contamination of fish in the reservoir resulted from methylation of mercury present in the soil. Social costs of the dam included resettlement of 238 families of farmers; impacts on indigenous people were indirect. Mitigating measures included faunal rescue and creation of a forest reserve. The lessons of Samuel include the need to consider a full range of alternatives prior to making decisions in practice and the importance of adhering to the logical sequence of decision making, where information is gathered and compared prior to the decision. It also shows the need to maintain flexibility when the costs and benefits of different alternatives change significantly over the course of the project’s planning and execution, as occurred at Samuel.