A slow, rotten death that I had the opportunity to experience firsthand. A mistake and disaster on the scale of Glen Canyon. It’s over 200km from Muratlı to İspir and just about all of it is or will be flooded. This is Turkey’s Çoruh River Project that I’ve mentioned previously in this space. Even though it’s now largely an industrial zone, I was still overwhelmed by the grandeur, magnitude, and beauty of the long, steep, twisting Çoruh River Canyon. One section (site of the 4th large dam counting from the bottom) goes on steep, dark, and narrow for many kms — reminiscent of Granite Gorge in the Grand Canyon. I’m not sure if this project has its David Brower equivalent, but many people will die wishing it never happened.
The dam at Muratlı is finished. The reservoir is full. The dam at Borçka is finished. The reservoir is full. The dam at Artvin is finished. They’re still filling the reservoir, waiting to finish construction of the new road that will be above the water level. The next dam above Artvin is still under construction. They haven’t started the dam below Yusufeli yet. There may still be some political wrangling about its size. The next dam, above Yusufeli, looks largely complete to me, but they haven’t started filling it yet. The small dam (the only small one) at İspir is finished. The reservoir is full.
Yusufeli is the biggest town to be flooded. Borçka and Artvin were both spared — whether by design or a luck of geography I’m not sure.
Above İspir the feel of the canyon is different — less steep and narrow, more wide open. It was wonderful to see a free-flowing river winding through the fall foliage. How much longer will that last? I understand there are plans for another dam between İspir and Bayburt. I couldn’t see the site because the road is a bit away from the Çoruh in this beautiful area, but I don’t think they’ve started construction yet. I don’t see how they could. The road there is still too steep, curvy, and narrow for big trucks.
Each reservoir has or will have a new road along it. The canyon above Artvin is so steep and twisty that the road is actually mostly tunnels. I’ve never ridden so many kms of tunnels in one day, and I’ve have some big tunnel days — out to Lofoten and crossing the mountains from Nagano to Gifu come to mind. Crazy Turks.
The Place No One Knew. One of the few books that I kept when selling everything before leaving Boulder. But compared to Glen Canyon this place is known. It had world-renowned rafting, and people have lived in villages in this part of the world for a couple thousand years. There was also a road twisting along with the river almost the entire length of the canyon. Just like many others before me, I camped, visited villages, and pedalled many kms in areas that will sooner (two months?) or later (20 years?) be flooded. No rafting happened this summer.
In the US we’ve stopped doing massive dam projects — Glen Canyon was the last — but China still does them. And if you look at a map of Yunnan and Sichuan, you can see there are plenty of sites left — heaps of huge, steep, narrow canyons, probably spectacular. Does anyone care? Hopefully Mexico will be paying attention when their Corps of Engineers equivalent decides to start damming some of the many huge canyons in the Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre) area.
Here in Turkey villagers on the ground almost universally loathed the Çoruh River Project (that’s my name, by the way). Many have already fled — to İstanbul, Bursa, or other big cities. I did meet one young man from Artvin who reservedly pointed out good things about the project. Certainly I wasn’t getting unbiased answers. I solicited opinions from unemployed villagers, not construction workers. Try as I might, I probably had a disgusted look on my face when asking folks how they felt. Whatever, no one’s coming to this blog for unbiased analysis.
Many construction workers will probably spend their entire careers on this one project. If it weren’t for the heat and the cold, the rain and the snow, daily sucking in dust and assaulting the eardrums, and being away from family, it might be decent work. Maybe they’re underpaid too, I don’t know. I’ll bet that even some of the workers entombed in the concrete of Glen Canyon Dam thought, avant la mort, they had a pretty good job.
I knew when I set off to follow the Çoruh from Muratlı to Bayburt I should expect massive construction in a beautiful canyon. Well, the canyon was more spectacular than I expected, and the destruction more heart-wrenching. Can’t we leave a few rivers wild?
To end on a brighter note, on this route I met some super cyclists who I hope to see again sometime. Young, enthusiastic Will who couldn’t stop gushing about how incredibly gorgeous and all downhill the road from Erzurum had been:
Even though we were standing around in the hot sun with nothing to eat, I couldn’t stop talking to Jost and Therese. If plans hadn’t been brewing for a short backpack trip with a friend, it would have been very tempting to join them for a bit.