REPORT #111 Sept 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

10 to 15 years ago, in different of my publications, the subject of Belize using hydro electricity came up. I was all for it and went into some detail on the differences between low head and high head dams.

Somewhere in between then and now, the "Belmopan Wallahs" grabbed the ball and ran with it and had a BEEEG "High Head" dam constructed. Unfortunately, without the requisite two years of water flow studies. It doesn't work in the dry season.

Not sure what happened in Belmopan? Did they listen to too many experts, too many committees, or the baksheesh was too tempting? They chose to build a beeeg dam. What one would call a high head dam. My own vision back in those pioneering days was more of the idea that Belize could support 50 different, low head hydro electric dams. You know, the type that are 20 to 30 feet high and back up a water reservoir a mile long and a quarter mile wide. Nothing too big, in case during a torrential rainfall, like a Hurricane sitting over Belize, the dam would get washed out with a top gallon flood. Now they want to build another high head beeeeg dam. The Chalillo Dam! The trouble with big dams in a tropical rain forest climate is those uncertain times that you have monsoon conditions and the dams could get washed out. Investors, speculators, experts from temperate zones, will always try to sell you bigger than you can afford, or should have. Certainly, the experts that recommended the dam we currently have, should be guillotined for bad advice. Any recommendations made on lack of water flow studies, obviously misrepresented any expertise skills, he or she might have had.

In the back of my mind, putting a series of low head dams along a stream bed is not much problem. If one dam breaks, it is unlikely to cause lower dams to also break. One has to always bear in mind that the pressure of water is going to wash out a dam under stressful conditions. But if a big head dam monstrosity breaks, towns, villages, rivers and farms downstream are going to suffer horrendous losses, both in lives, livestock and crop damage.

So it would seem to be occuring in our neighbor countries this weekend of Sept. 26th., 1999. There isn't even a hurricane in sight. Just a secondary milder FALL rainy season. Torrential rains are threatening to destroy their big dam in Honduras and one in Salvador. The major producer of electricity for Honduras is the El Cajon Dam. 100,000 people have been evacuated from downstream. Flooding is already occuring and 13 people have died. Nine bridges have already been destroyed by swollen rivers. Landslides have cut off highways and forced a cancellation of everything but emergency measures. Floodgates are wide open on the big dam, and water way over the top as the dam is buried in torrential floods. Officials are struggling to save the El Cajon dam. It could collapse at any moment! In Salvador they are doing the same thing and have the floodgates for the hydroelectric dam on the Lempa River wide open for more than a week.

You note here, that Belize is in a similar condition, but currently without the torrential rainfall. We do get top gallon floods though. Somehow, those that aspire to be political party "leaders" in an elected dictatorship made the wrong decisions. Why? Who knows? Low head dams are okay, keeping in mind that dams wash out and you can lose your investment, plus the damage you might have to downstream affairs. I would rather have low head dams and a lot of them, every few miles along a descending river, or stream. But going for those expert advised, economies of scale, in a big dam is plain stupid. One would have thought elected leaders would have enough rural common sense to realize that; even if investors and outside experts try to sell you on bigger is better. They are obviously working on commissions and fees, or something, where they make more if you build bigger. But plain Belizean country folk common sense should tell even the most illiterate campesino, who has sat on a river bank when a bridge has washed out, that bigger is not better, and smaller is sweeter and common sense.

Prepare for the worst scenario! Always! We live in a natural disaster area, from earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, pests and diseases and Central American wars. Some of those Belmopan Wallahs are smart and really intelligent, but they sure lack common sense sometimes! Now let's watch what happens in Honduras and Salvador and hope their big hydro electric dams don't wash out on them, killing lots of people downstream and destroying multi-millions of dollars of property and investment. Wonder how much the insurance for a dam wash out will be on the Chalillo Dam and the one down stream? If you don't have that, you are playing Russian Roulette buddy. As the Hondurans and Salvadoraneans officials are finding out this weekend, as they sweat out the torrential flooding rainfall conditions.

They aren't really too bright in Belmopan, are they? Or Honduras and Salvador apparently. As someone once famous once said. Winning control of a political party means you have skills in backstabbing, doubledealing and mudslinging; but it doesn't mean you are intelligent. Just swell headed if you think so. Our political party experts, still deny that consensus decisions on policy are better than decisions by an elite bunch of party hacks used to backroom underhanded dealing. Yet the results of party policy making, still fall short of the superior consensus policy making method, with checks and balances. Too bad we don't have a consensus method in the Constitution.

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