ASUNCION – French experts with the Compagnie Nationale du Rhone (CNR) will study this week the viability of a project to build a set of locks to allow water traffic around the Itaipu dam and interconnect both parts of the Parana River, the director of the Paraguayan side of the dam, James Spalding, said Tuesday.
“Today the technical team is coming from France that is going to be spending the week at the plant to look at everything concerning the project to see if the lock issue is viable,” Spalding told reporters after meeting in Asuncion with Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga.
The director of the Paraguayan portion of the dam, which Asuncion shares with Brazil, said that the dam’s two governing bodies were in France talking with CNR, which administers navigation, energy generation and irrigation along the Rhone River.
The arrival of the French team is the result of that meeting, and their mission will be to investigate the possibility of building a set of locks so that river traffic may sail around the dam.
Spalding said that the latest document dealing with the issue sets forth a lock system running through Paraguayan territory for about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles).
He added that the system would have to include three or four consecutive locks to raise or lower vessels the 120 meters (about 400 feet) between the water level in the dammed portion of the river and the lower portion of the river past the dam.
Spalding did not say what the project would cost, how much river traffic it could handle, the time it would take to finish the project or where the financing would come from.
He also said that the French experts who will study the project had participated in expanding the Panama Canal, a project brought to fruition a year ago.
Spalding also reported the creation of a binational group by the Paraguayan and Brazilian dam administrating bodies “to study the lock issue,” emphasizing that “there must be consensus” between the parties to move forward with the project.
The Paraguay-Parana Waterway is the main river transport artery for Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia, and is particularly important for the latter two nations, given that they are landlocked and it provides access to the Atlantic for their products.
The Itaipu dam in 2016 generated a record of more than 100 million megawatt-hours of electricity, surpassing China’s Three Gorges Dam as the world’s largest hydroelectric project.