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Planned hydroelectric plant threatens Yuvarlak Çay River

KÖYCEĞİZ, Muğla - Hürriyet Daily News | 12/14/2009 12:00:00 AM | JANE TUNA AKATAY - ÖZLEM ÖZTÜRK

Yuvarlak Çay boasts one of the most beautiful, crystal-clear rivers in the southwest of Turkey. The four restaurants operating on its banks welcome guests from all over the country and the world. But a planned hydroelectric plant threatens to turn this treasured site into just a fond memory.

Last Saturday, more than 60 concerned protesters from areas as far as Muğla and Fethiye united with local residents in Köyceğiz armed with placards and whistles against the construction of a hydroelectric facility. The group congregated where they were told the project’s first stage, the logging of native trees, would take place.

Mehmet Karaboa, 37, has been the manager of Çınar Restaurant and Motel on the Yuvarlak Çay River for the last seven years. He is afraid the planned reservoir will mean his business will go bust, as the main attraction – the river’s flow rate – will reduce from 1,500 to 400 liters per second.

He estimates that the four restaurants operating along the river, which currently employ a total of 50 workers all from local villages, will close, causing an increase in the already problematic issue of unemployment.

“This decrease in water flow will see the end of Yuvarlak Çay and the natural beauty of this area,” he said. “Visitors who dine at our restaurant come from all over Turkey and overseas just to appreciate the beauty of this river," Karaboa said.

“We would like to propose the reservoir be built further down stream where our village, farms and businesses won’t be affected. But who will listen to us? There has been no consultation with us at all.”

Mehmet Çobanoğulu, 41, managing director of Kaunos Tours has organized Jeep safari tours, which have stopped at Yuvarlak Çay for lunch for the past 17 years.

“The cost to local business and not to mention the natural assets is going to be enormous here,” he said. “This whole region breathes because of Yuvarlak Çay and the surrounding forests. To destroy this area is like destroying the lungs of the whole region.”

He estimates his white water rafting business will drop by 90 percent in 2010 due to water held back by the Dalaman Ak Köprü Reservoir.

“The most infuriating aspect of all of this and the point that I find hardest to digest is that the project has been given the go ahead when there is already a huge reservoir in Dalaman.

“We are gradually losing all our natural resources in the name of producing electricity. Maybe in a few years my business will be organizing tours to see these ghastly reservoirs as opposed to the serene rivers we have today.”

[HH] Locals despair at lack of consultation and information

It is not just tourists and restaurateurs who will be affected. Günay Çetin was born and raised in Köyceğiz and grew up playing in Yuvarlak Çay. He is openly distressed about the future of his childhood playground, he says as his voice trails off upon describing what life would be like without the flowing river.

“If I had a choice of living anywhere in the world I would chose here. Yuvarlak Çay is a very special place of untouched nature, fresh air and water as cold as ice … but I’m afraid this beauty will disappear,” he said.

“The river gushes with cold water now. It saddens me to think that after the reservoir our river will be reduced to a trickle,” the 35-year-old says with his head bowed.

“The authorities have kept us totally in the dark. All I know is that they’re going to start cutting down the trees today. No one is telling us how our village will be affected,” he said.

“For example what will happen to the water we irrigate and use on our farms to survive? What will happen to the vegetables, fruit and olives we live off?”

Çetin added: “If more people from my village knew about the protest today, they would have been here. I know the majority of them are against the reservoir.”

[HH] Köyceğiz mayor offers to carry on protest

The mayor of Köyceğiz, Salih Erbay, said authorities have to re-focus their energy on the issues that matter. “We are so preoccupied with building permits in this area that we are not concentrating on the real issues like the logging of these trees to make way for a reservoir. There is no doubt we need alternative energy, but I don’t think building a hydroelectric station on Yuvarlak Çay will make the world of difference,” said the mayor.

“Why not utilize the thousands of tons of water that can be collected from the Black Sea region? Why fuss about the 3,000 liters [per second] that flow through Yuvarlak Çay? Is it worth changing the fate of this river or destroying forests here?” he asked.

“Locals need to take ownership of this issue. I heard there were going to be thousands of people here, where are they? If there is no one who will take ownership, I will!” Erbay said. 

[HH] Need for transparency and democracy in governance

These complex issues are often best debated in a public meeting, but in Turkey often the non-confrontational, in this case the villagers, are the ones who suffer.

While sustainable power is to be encouraged, many say it should not be exploited at the cost of people’s livelihood and valuable ecosystems. Environmental audits and the impact on society ought to have a place in the decision-making process before irreversible damage is done to these unique areas, according to some experts.

As it happened, while the villagers and protesters were meeting, the cutting of trees had already begun in another part of the village. A rumor also spread explaining the absence of many of the villagers who had originally said they would attend the protest. It was said they did not show because they had been visited by those responsible for the project and given wood in return for their tacit agreement and cooperation.

The protests will continue next weekend.

[HH] Turkey and hydroelectricity

Turkey currently has 150 hydroelectric power plants across the country. In 2008, the renewable energy accounted for 16.7 percent of Turkey’s annual electric production. Future projections, however, see a slump in the figure, which is attributed to a lack of rainfall.

Hydroelectricity is the most widely used form of renewable electricity and, under normal circumstances, provides a stable and reliable source or energy, not subject to market fluctuations, making it a popular choice with governments.

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