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The Parana

Between you and I…

They call me Parana. A fine name that means “parent of the sea” in Guarani (an Amerindian language). I cross three countries, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, nearly half the South American continent, before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. Formed at the north by the confluence of the Rio Paranaiba and the Rio Grande, in the Brazilian highlands, my estuary is the Rio de la Plata where I join the Rio Paraguay, to the north of Buenos Aires. I am one of the largest rivers in the world, the 10th by discharge and the 5th by watershed. After the Amazon, I am the country’s second largest hydrographic basin. With my two large dams, Itaipu and Yacyreta, I’m considered as a giant of hydropower. I lie at the heart of the South American economy and international relations.

A little history

Small dams were built at the end of the 19th century in the northern part of my watershed, after which hydrometric measures were taken at the beginning of the 20th century to gauge my full potential. However, it was not until the 1960s that awareness of my benefits for energy was turned into reality, driven by the determination of Brazil. The Itaipu (1966) agreement, which officialised cooperation between Brazil and Paraguay to exploit my hydroelectricity, was reinforced by the Itaipu Treaty of 1973, quickly followed by Argentina which in the same year signed the Treaty of Yacyreta with Paraguay. These treaties marked the launch of two major structures: the dams of Itaipu and Yacyreta. Numerous bilateral and multinational agreements relating to my management and that of my tributaries were signed from the 1970s onwards. I’m obviously of strategic economic importance: nearly a hundred million people live in my watershed which concentrates 80% of the combined GNPs of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia. I also encompass large farming and livestock breeding areas.

Technical sheet

  • Source: Brazilian highlands
  • Mouth: Rio de la Plata
  • Average discharge: 16,800 m3/s at its mouth
  • Total length: 4,099 km
  • Watershed: 2,582,672 km²
  • States crossed: Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina
  • Tributaries: in Bolivia and Uruguay

My many uses

Hydroelectricity production: considerable potential

With an average discharge of 16,800 m3/s at my mouth, my discharge is among the ten largest river discharges in the world. My watershed is the most exploited in the world, with 14 large dams (more than 1,000 MW). Brazil is no. 1 in terms of the number of dams (569), in front of Argentina (101 dams), although I remain under-equipped in the Argentinian section.

More than 90% of the Brazil’s electricity comes from the hydraulic energy generated in my watershed and overall it generates 38,916 MW, i.e. 60% of the all the energy produced in the country. In the case of Paraguay, almost all the electricity consumed comes from hydropower (99.99%, one of the highest percentages in the world!).

 

Key-figure:

103,098 GWh: production’s world record done by Itaipu in 2016

Itaipu and Yacyreta: 2 giants of hydropower

 

Itaipu dam

  • Place: Brazilian/Paraguayan border
  • Construction: between 1975 and 1991 (2 additional turbines in 2005 and 2006)
  • Annual average production: 96,400 GWh (1st in world)
  • Installed capacity: 14,000 MW (2nd in world)
  • Number of generating units: 20 (18 in activity simultaneously)

Yacyreta dam

  • Place: Argentinian/Paraguayan border
  • Construction: between 1983 and 2001
  • Annual production: 19,000 GWh (1/3 of the hydroelectricity on the Argentinian market)
  • Installed capacity: 4,050 MW
  • Number of generating units: 20

Reconciling hydroelectricity and river transport: a major challenge

The development of cereal crops and the “soya bean boom” have led to new needs for river transport and a way of reaching the maritime outlet of Buenos Aires, especially from the Mato Grosso in Brazil and Misiones in Paraguay. Up to now farm produce has been exported overland to the ports of Rio de Janeiro and Santos.

The problem: this ambition must overcome the hydroelectricity development schemes that were built without taking much account of river transport. For example, Yacyreta dam has a lock capable of handling push-tow convoys, but it risks becoming too small given the increase in their size. As for Itaipu dam, it was built without any lock, making it necessary for goods transporters to operate via the transit platforms of Paz-Hernandarias and Puerto-Três Fronteiras upstream and downstream of the dam. Thus, goods are transported for 38 km by truck. Plans exist to build three additional locks at Itaipu dam and studies are in progress. A presentation will be done in August 2018 to the two governments for the review.

Water supplies for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses

Potable water for irrigation, livestock and industr

70% of my water is used for irrigation, 9% for livestock and 8% is devoted to industry. 70% of the potable water consumed in my neighbouring regions is taken from my surface waters.

River fishing is making its way

River fishing started to develop at the beginning of the 1990s despite the technical barriers. For example, Yacyreta dam impedes migrating species from spawning in my waters, thus threatening the renewal of fish populations. And Itaipu has an ambitious program to increase the fish population.

Tourism and sustainable development

In addition to my industrial and agricultural uses, certain cities also want to exploit my touristic potential and encourage initiatives under the banner of sustainable development. This is the case of Rosario in Argentina, where the coast has been returned to the public and a project for a “green belt” has been launched. By reducing the land occupied by the railways and ports, the city can henceforth take better advantage of its cultural and leisure facilities.

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large dams (more than 1,000 MW installed capacity)

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of the water used for irrigation

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of the electricity in Brazil and Paraguay come from the river

Governance: the choice of binational cooperation

The second half of the 20th century saw Latin America fluctuate between democracy and dictatorship. In the 1970s, the State was strong and invested in transport and hydroelectricity; the economy was planned. In a context propitious for launching major projects such as the construction of dams, governments opted to set up binational companies to manage them. This was the case of Itaipu and Yacyreta, both initiated in 1973. These binational structures still resist the political and economic changes brought about by the deregulation of the economy.

What river for tomorrow?

Hydroelectricity as the leading source of renewable energy

Taking into account the growing energy needs of the countries around the Plata basin now raises vital questions regarding the exploitation of my resources. The answer to the energy crisis therefore lies in increasing hydroelectricity production and reducing the use of oil and gas. Environmental and energy objectives can be attained through technological progress.

Pollution and environmental challenges

With my considerable discharge, I can absorb part of the pollution with my water. However, efforts are needed to treat pesticides and nitrates. Fortunately, local initiatives are emerging to push responsible development to the fore.

Know more about me

Travel on the river

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