Govt plans to use Silala waters for development projects

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bolivian authorities have announced plans to make use of the disputed Silala waters for projects such as hydroelectric dams in the country's western Andean region.

The government will use plans drawn up by former Potosí department governor Mario Virreira, state news agency ABI reported.

"Several projects had been developed to make use of the waters. One of them was the installation of a hydroelectric dam, which could generate electricity in Bolivian territory for different types of activities, as well as the use of groundwater for production of forage," said deputy foreign minister Juan Carlos Alurralde.

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Bolivia has a right to use the waters, and the projects would not involve diverting their existing channel, Alurralde added.

The country is involved in a century-old dispute with neighboring Chile over the use of the Silala waters, which Bolivia claims originate from springs on its territory. Chile uses 14,000l/s of the waters through an artificial channel, arguing that they form a binational river that is governed by international law.

The two countries reached an agreement last year under which Chile would pay US$2/m3 to use 50% of the water. However, talks stalled after Chile's committee rejected a move to make it pay retroactively for the water, which it has been using since the start of the 20th century.

The two countries are now waiting for the completion of studies that aim to confirm the legal status of the water source.