Turkey // Northeastern Anatolia //

The damming of the Çoruh… and the end of YusufelI?

Anyone lucky enough to have visited Yusufeli in May or June will have seen, and certainly heard, the Çoruh River thumping along at a quite incredible speed, emitting a roar that’s audible all along the valley – the result of the melting of winter snow in the Kaçkar mountains. The area’s hydroelectric potential is enormous, and of major importance in a country accustomed to importing costly fossil fuels. The first schemes to dam the Çoruh were drawn up in the 1970s; thanks to poor planning, environmental lobbying and retracted investments, they have been torn up and put back together many times since.

Little Yusufeli has borne the brunt of this uncertainty – under the initial, and many subsequent, plans, the town would have been the largest of eighteen settlements swallowed, either in whole or in part, by the highest major dam. This lingering Sword of Damocles ensured that, for decades, nothing new was built in Yusufeli. In 2011, the pendulum swung back towards the creation of a series of smaller dams further up the river, and a small burst of new construction followed – at the time of writing, however, many local residents still expected to lose their homes. Should the upstream dams get the go-ahead, as seems likely, one casualty will be the local rafting industry – most operators were expecting to cease operations in 2013, though rest assured that they’ll soon be back on whitewater elsewhere: check wcoruhrafting.com for news.

The gigantic Deriner Dam near Artvin was sealed in 2012, and it will slowly start to produce electricity as the waters rise. At the time of writing, the area behind the dam was a vast, post-apocalyptic mess – however, most of it will in due course be submerged, and the new roads linking Artvin with Yusufeli and Ardahan are likely to become incredibly scenic driving routes.

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