Chalillo Dam, Belize

The first environmental case to be brought to the highest court of appeal of Belize: the 5 MW dam is a small project but brought about severe environmental damages in a "biogem" of Mesoamerica.


Chalillo hydroelectric project was first proposed in the early 1990s and later integrated into the Central American Electric Interconnection System (Sistema de Integración Eléctrica para América Central - SIEPAC); it is operating since end 2005, built by the Canadian company Fortis with Chinese participation. The project was the subject of a huge campaign in the late 1990s and early 2000s by environmentalist groups in Belize and elsewhere who were concerned about the project's impacts on the Macal River. Since the first feasibility study there have been warnings of the heavy environmental damage, also due to the peculiarity of the Maya Mountains. Only the head pond behind this dam will inundate 1,000 hectares of riverine habitat, which is, according to some scientists, the only habitat of its type in all of Central America. The dam would further threaten the endangered Scarlet Macaw and other rare species. The dam would fracture the Mesoamerican Wildlife Corridor, a rain forest tract stretching from Mexico to Panama, established to protect migration routes and breeding grounds for wild cats, migratory birds, and other animals. National Geographic News quote Sharon Matola, founder of the Belize Zoo and a principal of a lawsuit against the dam, the first environmental lawsuit of Belize, who said: "This is the cradle for biodiversity in Central America, and arguably the wildest place left in the region. Trading off millions of years of biological evolution for a hydro scheme which, at best, would last 50 years, is an environmental crime of the highest degree." [1] There are also many unexcavated Mesoamerican ruins in the surrounding jungle.

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Basic Data
NameChalillo Dam, Belize
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesWater
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe dam itself is 30 meters high (about 150 feet at it's highest point) and will produce a maximum of 5 Megawatts fixed energy, both from Chalillo and by adding storage to the Mollejon Hydroelectric Plant where the water will be stored and converted to energy. It is considered a run-of-river scheme.

In the beginning construction of the project was estimated to cost US$30 million. Though Fortis/BECOL have never released the actual figures, the numbers recently presented at the November commissioning ceremony were in the neighborhood of US$100 million, over three times the initial estimates.
Project Area (in hectares)1,000 flooded
Level of Investment (in USD)100,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population16,000
Start Date1990
Company Names or State EnterprisesBelize Electric Company Limited (BECOL) from Belize
Fortis from Canada - Fortis is the owner of BECOL
Sinochem Corporation from China
International and Financial InstitutionsCanadian International Development Agency (CIDA) from Canada
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersBelize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO)

Alliance of Conbservation NGOs (BACONGO)

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

International Coalition to Save the Macal River
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
International Conservationists, lawyers
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Organizations gathered in an international campaign which used to have a website called
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsVisible: Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
OtherDiseases caused by still waters in the reservoir
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (failure for environmental justice)
Support from famous personalities, like Hollywood actors Harrison Ford y Cameron Diaz
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The Canadian company is still making its profits and remains unpunished for the irregularities and corruption.
Sources and Materials

Hershowitz, A. (2008). Solid Foundation: Belize's Chalillo Dam and Environmental Decisionmaking, A. Ecology LQ, 35, 73.
[click to view]

Analysis of the Final Feasibility Study and Environmental

Impact Assessment for the Proposed Chalillo Dam

Prepared for The Belize Alliance of Conservation Non-Government Organizations by Conservation Strategy Fund
[click to view]


[5] International Rivers on water contamination of the Macal River
[click to view]

World Rainforest Movement
[click to view]

Gustavo Soto describes the main anti-dam resistance meetings in the last 30 years
[click to view]

[1] National Geographic
[click to view]

[3] Probe International
[click to view]

[2] Belize Magazine - The Chalillo Dam
[click to view]

Kingstone Times, Fortis foes allege eco-misdeeds, by LYNN WOODS on Jun 6, 2013
[click to view]

[4] The Independent, 2003 - Belizean macaws and tapirs threatened by dam project

By Elizabeth Mistry
[click to view]

Other Documents

A view on the dam construction works Source: Belize Magazine
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorDaniela Del Bene, ICTA - UAB
Last update26/05/2016