The Itaipu dam and hydro electric plant are located in Paraguays eastern border. They span the Rio Parana between Paraguay and Brazil.
Plans for a hydro electric power plant to supply electricity to the region were fist drawn up in 1966. It took several years of planning and negotiations before Paraguay and Brazil were ready to start work on its construction.
This finally started in 1975 and was to continue for several years before completion. The peak of the construction work came a couple of years later when thousands of workers were working day and night to build the dam.
In 1982 the structure of the dam was complete and the gates were shut to begin flooding the lake that would soon form behind it.
A year later in 1983 the first of the giant turbines began to turn. Then as more and more turbines were completed it was connected to the Paraguayan electric grid in 1984. A year later in 1985 it was also connected to the Brazilian grid.
By then in 1985 the power plant was operational but work continued on the final touches until 1991.
Now fully operational Itaipu provides electricity to most of Paraguay and a large part of Southern Brazil.
When completed Itaipu was the largest hydro electric scheme in the world. It has an annual output of 14 GW of electricity. By comparison Grand Coulee in the USA produces 6.5 GW.
Itaipu retained its title as the largest in the world until the building of the Three Gorges Dam in China. That produces 22 GW. Itaipu looks likely to remain the second largest for a while to come as nothing on that scale is currently being built.
This electricity is produced by water rushing through the 18 huge turbines that are lined up along it.
The dam wall rises to a level of 196 metres and behind it a lake 170 Km long and 12 Km wide has been formed. This has a depth of 220 metres and extends down many of what were the tributes to the Rio Parana.
At the far end of the lake is the Paraguayan town of Saltos de Guaira. This was the location of the Guaira Falls. These were by volume the largest waterfalls in the world before the disappeared beneath the lake.
Now even if the dam was removed the waterfalls would not return. In order to create a safe shipping channel their rocks were blown up by the Brazilian navy shortly after they had been drowned.
Everything about Itaipu, the dam, the lake, the lost waterfalls is on a gargantuan scale. The dam wall extends for almost 8 km and in building it more than eight and a half times the rocks excavated in building the Channel Tunnel between England and France were moved.
Every other statistic related to Itaipu be that concrete, man power of water volumes is on the same scale.
Even the slipway built to drain off excess water can flow at a rate 40 times greater than the nearby Iguazu Falls. Those waterfalls are themselves one of the natural wonders of South America.
Prior to the building of the dam human habitation was no more than scattered hamlets spread throughout thick forest.
Now where once there was just a workers camp the city of Ciudad del Este now the second largest city in Paraguay stands. It is a similar story elsewhere near Itaipu were temporary camps have become large settlements.
This was a thinly populated region but not an empty one.
As the lake filled 10,000 people lost their homes.
It was not just people who were displaced. A lake 170 Km long in the wilderness is going to destroy a large amount of wildlife.
I can still recall watching an item many years ago about people in small boats picking animals out of the water and from tree tops as their home got flooded. That could only have been Itaipu.
There are now some small zoos and wildlife reserves in the area but they are nothing compared with what has been lost.
I find it very doubtful that such a building project would be permitted these days.
It was built though and thanks to it Paraguay now has enough electricity to meet all its needs.
For any visitor to Eastern Paraguay a visit to Itaipu is as fascinating as one over the border to Brazil to see the Iguazu Falls.
Flying from Brazil to Paraguay the dam and lake are clearly visible from the air. The view from above showing the their scale in relationship to everything else in the area.
Then on the ground it is possible to take a tour of the facility to see the enormous project up close.
From the Paraguayan head office next to the dam and guided tour visits the machine shop inside the dam where the electricity is produced, takes a close up visit to the huge turbines and then drives along the top of the dam and over to the Brazilian side. From top of the dam the lake disappears into the distance like an inland sea.
Furthermore a multi coloured light show lights up the dam wall at night in another spectacle not to be missed.
All this and the sheer scale of the enterprise make Itaipu a stop not to be missed by any visitor to Eastern Paraguay.
You might be interested in Glass’s “Itaipu” composition:
“Itaipú originated as Glass’ response both to nature and to a modern technological wonder, in this case the massive hydro-electric dam… While the music itself hymns the wonder wrought by nature and by humankind, the exotic text recounts the creation of the world, the actions of the gods and how the first people came to this special place.”
BTW, there is a slight error in your first paragraph. Should be “span the Rio PARANA.”
Well,I never realised someone had set the whole thing to music.
And thank for pointing out the error so I could correct it. With no one to proofread the occasional one is bound to creep in