ISTANBUL - Milliyet
With the government giving away licenses to any private contractor wanting to build hydroelectric plants, villagers are mobilizing against the new “dam-craze.”
Since 2007 the government has allowed the private sector to get involved in any projects that would help satisfy Turkey's growing energy needs despite the fact that a drought has resulted in water levels in some rivers too low to meet the needs of locals and allow wildlife to survive.
Gathering around posters demanding “Let our rivers flow freely,” thousands of people from Istanbul, İzmir, Ankara, and the Black Sea provinces of Trabzon, Rize and Artvin protested against the construction of hydroelectric power stations, arguing that the dams would destroy the habitats on which they were constructed. People organized under the name “Brotherhood of Rivers Platform” are guarding the rivers, armed with sticks in their hands.
The government regulated the principles of the Water Usage agreement signed between the State Hydraulic Works, or DSİ, and private entities for the construction and management of hydro energy production facilities in June 2003. Private entities presented their projects to the DSİ in 2007. The DSİ regional directorates examined feasibility reports and sent them to the general directorate. Private contractors whose feasibility reports were confirmed signed agreements with the DSİ.
People living in the Black Sea region learned about the construction of dams when they saw the workers arriving on their fields to take measurements. When the bulldozers started destroying trees, the citizens went to the governor's office and DSİ.
DSİ officers argued their only part in the process was to approve the feasibility reports. It noted that once the agreement was signed, the Energy Market Regulatory Authority, or EPDK, or the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources took on all responsibility. Due to the confusion over authority, neither the EPDK nor the ministry knew where their responsibilities started and finished.
Meanwhile, citizens continued to seek answers to the question of who will protect the local habitat if the private sector stops the flow of water and which institution will be responsible if the feasibility report is correctly applied.
Although no response was forthcoming, it was discovered that the ministry “forgot” to formulate regulatory controls.
By the time the ministry had started preparing one after the warnings, the private sector had already lodged 726 applications on 1,127 projects.
Currently, there are 426 projects to build dams in the Black Sea provinces of Artvin, Trabzon, Giresun, Gümüşhane, Bayburt and Rize. Construction on over 40 projects has already begun, meaning much is already too late. Even the Macahel River that was protected by U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization because it is Turkey's first biosphere reserve is open to business, with construction already having begun.
In the end, Environmental Impact Assessment, or EIA, regulations were changed and EIA reports for all of the dam projects were demanded. However, when this decision was taken, projects for nearly all of the dams were into the building phase.
After the Environment and Forestry Ministry found the EİA reports “positive” for the dam planned for the Çağlayan River in Rize, locals lodged a complaint against it. Complaints against other dam projects are also on the way.
Additionally, locals are holding protest rallies every week to express their fears that dams will dry up their valleys, while authorities maintain the argument that “small dams do not harm nature.”
In the feasibility reports, it is stated that there be “enough water left for local habitat to survive,” but the actual amount of water is not noted.
The DSİ said the government would decide on the amount and that this must be assurance enough for the locals. However, despite assurances locals are still in fear of their future.
Fındıklı is one of the places that has created a platform of resistance. The Fındıklı River Protection Platform took scientists to one of the regions where a dam is planned. After examinations, the scientists announced that the power stations would disrupt the natural balance.
DSİ official warns water wars will break out:
“Some engineers have developed dam projects for dry rivers and sold them to the private sector. During spring the flow of these rivers may be high but in summer they drop,” said an official of DSİ who did not want to be identified. “When the river runs dry, dam administrators will get water from its spring and start producing energy by collecting the water needed by nature. As these valleys start to suffocate, water wars will break out,” said the official.
'Water is not enough for us'
Permission was granted to build three dams in the Papart River Valley in the Şavşat district of Artvin. The Papart Valley is under protection as it resembles a rainforest where the natural beauty of the colored flowers and butterflies abound.
“In the summer drought, water of the river is only enough for part of the people who live here,” said one local.
Other villages try to bring water from the plateaus.
But many citizens ask how the dams will function when the water is not enough even for them.
We chased them with sticks
The women in the Mısırlı neighborhood have made a call for social action. “Some of you say, ‘We are civil servants,' some of you remain silent with the hopes of employment. Those who build dams will provide jobs for you only during construction. Then you will lose not only your jobs but also your water,” says Fatma Çapkun, addressing the men, who are mostly civil servants.
She reacts to those who say, “The state can do it if it wants to,” by saying, “We are the state. If we do not exist, the state would not exist either.”
“Our fruits get rotten. We do not want them to expel us out of our land,” said Lale Altun. “I have chased the contractor's men with sticks. The gendarmerie came to take us asking, ‘Are you starting a Georgian-style movement?'”
“We are against the power station, not our state,” said Emine Yılmaz, 66.