The Chicoasén name comes from pre-hispanic times. It is a town called Chicoasentepek, in Nahuatl means Six places or hills. Nowadays is also the name of a dam. The Chicoasén Dam, is a hydroelectric dam that uses the driving force of water for the generation of electric power. It is located at the end of the Sumidero Canyon National Park in the Grijalva River channel, twenty-five and half miles northwest of the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas. The hydroelectric plant was completed in 1980, and I went to see the final touches of its construction.
I was studying Engineering at the university; in some of my classes we needed to do field trips, our final grades were based on the reports of the places we visited. I made several trips with my classmates during my university years and this trip was going to be a special one.
First of all because we went to visit a series of hydroelectric plants in our way to Chicoasén our final destination nothing spectacular. Then we were in The National Park Sumidero Canyon, and it is one of the main tourist attractions of Chiapas, with great ecological wealth and one of the most imposing canyons in the world. It was declared a national park on December 8, 1980, more or less when I was visiting the hydroelectric plant.
I think I went to the Land of The Giants like in the TV series. Nature was impressively big. The Canyon where the Hydroelectric was being constructed, began to form 70 million years ago thanks to the action of tectonic movements called Horst-Graben; which, due to their characteristics of land mass movement, are called tectonic pillar and tectonic pit, respectively.
It looked really deep and high. The rocks that we see also today on the walls of the Sumidero Canyon, began to form some 136 million years ago based on sediments and calcium minerals (limestone), which is formed by the action of some marine animals such as corals, This means that, in ancient times, this region of Chiapas was submerged by a shallow sea. It has an extension of almost 22 thousand hectares. Its main attraction is the canyon walls that reach 1000 meters high.
For me, at that time, it was impressive, because I have not visited yet The Niagara Falls, or the Victoria Falls; still the Chicoasén Hydroelectric plant has one of the 10 highest dams in the world. Imagine the Grijalva River a 300 miles long one in southeastern Mexico surrounded by these gigantic walls and vegetation; imagine being in a shallow-draft boat navigating for approximately a hundred miles upstream surrounded by fascinating species with wonderful weather.
We went to see the hydroelectric plant being constructed; so, instead of the paradisiac dream we went inside of one of the turbines, they were ninety-eight feet tall. We were also able to visit part of the pressure channel because as to that date everything was dry. It was a one of a kind adventure. We went just months before its inauguration.
We were in a very dusty environment because they were drilling here and there, moving masses of dirt and rocks, welding here and there. I was eagerly taking notes incessantly. I was very proud of all the information I was able to gather and that, in that special moment, we were able to be inside “the guts” of this powerful project.
To this day the hydroelectric plant has a capacity of 2,400 MW. With a total storage space of 1,376 cubic hectometers of water. This plant generates electricity without stopping. It is bigger than the John Day Dam or The Hoover dam. Just think that you will need a pool that can handle around nine thousand trillions of gallons of water.
My trip had a terrible inconvenience; I was wearing contact lenses, and because of that almost at the end of the field trip I went to the infirmary because dust particles entered between one of my eyes and the contact lens. I had inadvertently scratched the cornea so I was patched for the rest of the trip. My eye hurt a lot; I remember.
Of a population of ten thousand students at the faculty of Engineering, only 48 including me, were able to visit the insides of the hydroelectric plant. We had a special permission, we used all the safety equipment and gear, we walked easily on the special designed passable passages. It was one of a kind trip. I was just perplexed and filled with utmost respect of the engineering force and inventiveness.
Today it takes my breath away to know how many hydroelectric power plants have been constructed. Water is a renewable resource. You see, hydroelectricity is electricity produced from hydropower. In 2015 hydropower generated 16.6% of the world’s total electricity and 70% of all renewable electricity, and was expected to increase about 3.1% each year for the next 25 years.
As of 2016, the largest hydroelectric power station is Three Gorges complex in China rated at 22,500 MW in total installed capacity. After passing on 7 December 2007 the 14,000 MW mark of the Itaipu Dam, the facility was ranked as the largest power facility ever built. The dam is 594 ft high, 7,661 ft long and 377 ft in width. Power is generated by 32 turbines rated at 700 MW, and two turbines rated 50 MW, which are used to power the facility itself. Construction of this dam commenced in 1994, and was completed in 2012, nearly two decades after it started. According to Wikipedia.
The World Economic Forum documented that, China produces the most electricity from hydroelectric power, some 856.4 billion kilowatt hours a year; more than double the amount produced by Brazil, in second place. The top three is completed by Canada, which produces 376.7 billion kilowatt hours a year. Alongside the United States in fourth, there are also places for Norway, Sweden, India, Venezuela and Japan, showing the geographical dispersion of hydroelectric power production.
Mexico has great potential in hydropower, it will develop it in years to come. Today more than ever it is needed a sustainable approach or an adaptability approach. Let’s named it anything you want; the point is to develop all the potential of the water we have. Other generations will visit this magnificent projects during construction to awe their minds, to expand their hearts, to envision beyond disruption and with better contact lenses. This trip has permanently being embedded in me, not everybody walks inside a turbine.