Mar 15 2007

Aerial Photos Reveal Massive Cracks in Brazilian Dam – Campos Novos Dam Builders Downplay Danger

Campos Novos 1

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The design of the Campos Novos Dam is of exactly the same type as the Kárahnjúkar dams. The difference between the two dams is that Campos Novos is built on stable ground whereas the Kárahnjúkar dams are built on top of a cluster of active volcanic fissures. Geological reports warning of this were suppressed by the Icelandic government at the time when the Parliament voted on the Kárahnjúkar dams.

International Rivers Network
June 27, 2006

The controversial 626–foot (202–meter) tall Campos Novos Dam in Southern Brazil suffered an uncontrolled release of water last week, completely emptying the reservoir of the recently completed dam. Aerial photographs released yesterday by Friends of the Earth Brazil show major cracks at the base of the dam, suggesting potentially irreparable damage.

“If this uncontrolled release had happened during the rainy season thousands of people could have been drowned,” charged Glenn Switkes, International Rivers Network (IRN) Latin America Campaigns Director.

Almost as soon as the reservoir started filling up with water in October, it slowly began leaking. Engineers blamed a faulty diversion tunnel. But then last week the reservoir suddenly emptied, falling over 160 feet (53–meters) in a couple of days. That water raced down a parched riverbed and into the reservoir of a dam downstream that was, fortunately, almost empty due to a severe regional drought.

Énio Schneider, president of the consortium operating the dam, was quoted in the Brazilian press on June 22 saying that the dam itself was not threatened because the reservoir draining occurred through a diversion tunnel which “is an isolated structure” from the dam. However, aerial photographs taken on June 24 suggest that the tunnel failure has seriously undermined the dam’s structural integrity (photos available on request).

The Movement of Dam Affected Peoples (MAB), which represent farmers who have lost land or been evicted by dams, had already written a letter in May to the dam’s funders and environmental authorities warning them of continued leakage from the reservoir. They voiced worry about flood dangers for people downstream, but got no response.

Glenn Switkes, IRN’s Latin America Campaigns Director said, “The company has been covering up the extent of the damage, the cost and time of repairing (or rebuilding) the dam, and the potential risks to people and property downstream. The company did not disseminate any information, despite the dangers posed by the weakened structure.”

Campos Novos is the world’s third tallest concrete–faced rockfill dam. This design has become increasingly common in recent years for very high dams. The dam was built by a consortium led by Brazilian construction giant Camargo Corrêa and engineering consultants Engevix. Major funders for the $671 million dam included the Inter–American Development Bank and the Brazilian state–owned National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES).

Controversy has dogged the project with allegations of miserly compensation for dam–evicted residents. Following summary round–ups of community leaders and violent police suppression of protests, Brazil’s MAB registered complaints with international agencies, and the United Nations launched an investigation of human rights violations at Campos Novos.


* Sao Paulo: Glenn Switkes, +55–11–3822–4157,
* Berkeley: Patrick McCully, +1–510–213–1441 (cell),

Source: IRN