The Daming of the Nile

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Uganda’s White Nile has been a destination for kayakers and rafters from all over the globe for years. Alex Nicks produced a film titled “Wicked Liquid 2,” featuring Brad Ludden and Steve Fisher nearly 10 years ago which showed the international paddling community what a gem of a river Uganda had. The Nile has since become known as one of the best whitewater runs in the world with warm water, tropical climate, consistent flows, classic pool-drop whitewater and friendly people.

The country of Uganda is located along the banks of Lake Victoria, the largest tropical lake in the world, in East Africa. From Lake Victoria the Nile flows all the way to Egypt making it the longest river in the world. Uganda is a developing country that does not have enough electricity to meet the growing demands of the economy.

There has been talk of a new dam below Bujagali Falls on the White Nile for over a decade but due to lack of funding because of corruption it hasn’t become a reality…until now.

In August of 2007 construction began immediately and without warning after the announcement that the World Bank would help fund the $600 million dollar project. The dam itself is to be owned by Bujagali Energy Limited, a subsidary of Sithe Global, an international corporation that is mainly owned by US investors. An Italian construction firm, Salini, has been contracted to build the dam. The power generated will be sold to the Ugandan Government for distribution to the Ugandan people. There are already two dams at the source of the Nile where it flows from Lake Victoria but they aren’t providing enough power because of mismanagement and much of it is exported to Kenya who funded these dams.

The dam is being constructed at the “Silverback” Rapid about 5 km downstream from the sacred Bujagali Falls. The whitewater run from Bujagali Falls to Silverback is the best stretch of whitewater on the Nile and probably one of the best stretches of whitewater in the world. The dam will produce 200 MW of electricity.

Much more than rapids will be lost by the dam construction. There are more than 1000 species of birds living along the river, giant monitor lizards, crocodiles, hundreds of species of fish and thousands of people. The highest populations of people in the area is along the river, which they use for drinking, cleaning, fishing and watering the crops.

The largest industry in Uganda is tourism and by far the number one activity of tourists in Uganda is rafting on the White Nile. By building the Bujagali Dam they are flooding the rafting run and shooting themselves in the foot. They say that there is another run below the new dam and that the raft companies will simply move down river and that there will be no negative effect upon the rafting industry. From our perspective, the lower run is not nearly as exciting as the upper run and not nearly as accessible. We will have to wait to see what the effect will be upon the rafting industry. We doubt that it can be positive.

We’ve been paddling and documenting the stretches of river that will soon be under water, interviewing local people that will be affected by the project and surfing the epic waves of the White Nile. They say that as soon as August of 2008 the Silverback section will be off limits to whitewater boaters. Now is the time to paddle the Nile. You literally may never get another chance.

Scott Ligare and Katie Scott

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