HERNANDARIAS, Paraguay (AP) — The gigantic Itaipu hydroelectric dam straddling the Brazil-Paraguay border on the vast Parana River, is feeling the heat of Brazil’s worst drought in nine decades.
Sometimes described as one of the world’s seven modern wonders, Itaipu’s banks, usually lush and green, have turned rocky and bare.
According to Itaipu’s website, 2020 was one of the driest years in the plant’s history, with power output at its lowest level since 1994, a decade after it was inaugurated and when it had less capacity than now.
Production this year will be even lower, by about 15%, said Hugo Zarate, the plant’s superintendent.
“We do not expect the crisis of lack of water to be solved before 2022. We will start the year in a rather complicated situation,” Zarate told The Associated Press.
That’s devastating for a country where hydroelectric generation accounts for about two-thirds of total installed capacity, and experts are warning of possible electricity shortages in coming months.
President Jair Bolsonaro last month said hydroelectric dam reservoirs were “at the limit of the limit,” and called for Brazilians to turn off a lamp, take cold showers and stop using elevators when possible.
Lawmakers have even discussed bringing back daylight saving time.
Crops have withered while energy costs and food prices are soaring. Zarate noted that the lack of rain “impacts navigation, it impacts fishing, and it impacts tourism.”
The Parana River which feeds the Itaipu plant is one of the main commercial waterways in South America, going through Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. It has reached its lowest level in nearly 80 years. Ships on the river have had to reduce their tonnage to keep navigating.
Reduced water levels are part of natural cycles. But experts have warned human activity is affecting global weather patterns, leading to more frequent extreme events such as severe droughts and floods.
A recent study showed that Brazil, the country with the most freshwater resources on the planet, has lost 15% of its surface water since 1991.
AP reporter Diane Jeantet reported from Rio de Janeiro.