Water Law, Mining and Hydro-Energy Conflicts in South America: Tales from the Andes and Patagonia

Victor Tafur


Conflicts in connection with hydro-energy and mining activities vis-à-vis other water uses, mainly human consumption, agriculture, industry, tourism, or even the essential flows needed for ecosystem protection, call into question whether South America’s path in the 21st Century will be characterized as ‘open veins’ (borrowing from the title of Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s book) or sustainable development. In this era of ‘New Conquistadors’, as some have called it, the key question is whether water law and environmental legal frameworks in the region are fit to deal with the pressure posed by these extracting industries. The paper seeks to contribute to this debate by discussing legal issues in connection with a controversial gold mining project in the Argentina-Chile border and a hydro-energy project in the Chilean Patagonia. The goal of the paper is to provide a South American perspective of water law through the lens of conflict.

The paper concludes that water-related conflicts in these projects reveal weaknesses in the regulatory scheme for such endeavours and underscores the need to adopt reforms or implement mechanisms to ensure that water resources are adequately assessed, protected, and monitored.


Intergovernmental water agreements; water for hydro-power; environmental water; South American water law;

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