May 21, 2020

Itaipu Dam Opens Spillway to Increase Water Level of Parana River

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

After more than a month of negotiations, Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina have started the process of increasing the discharge of water from the Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam in order to help increase the water level of the Parana River at the port hub of Rosario, Argentina. The Itaipu Dam, which is one of the largest in the world, sits on the border of Brazil and Paraguay and is jointly operated by the two countries.

A severe drought in southern Brazil and northern Argentina has resulted in the lowest water level on the Parana River at Rosario in more than 50 years and the lowest ever recorded during the month of April. Approximately 80% of Argentina's grain exports originate at the numerous ports on the Parana River near the city of Rosario.

Grain vessels have been forced to leave a portion of their holds unfilled due to the low water level. The vessels then must top-off their loads at deep-water ocean ports before heading out to sea. Argentina is the largest exporter of soybean meal and the third largest exporter of soybeans and corn. These logistical problems could not have come at a worst time because Argentina is in the midst of their peak export season.

The first attempt to increase the water level came at the end of April when operators of the Itaipu Dam increased the flow of water through the turbines as they generated more electricity, but the increased flow had only a minimal impact on the water level downstream. In order to significantly increase the discharge, they decided this time to open the spillway for a 9-hour period each day for 12 consecutive days. That process started earlier this week.

According to the Superintend of Operations at the dam, this should increase the water level at Rosario by 2 to 3 meters. The increased discharge is expected to lower the water level in the Itaipu reservoir by 1.5 to 2 meters.

In a coordinated effort between the three countries, the Yacyreta Hydroelectric Dam, which is located downriver on the Parana River on the border of Argentina and Paraguay, also agreed to increase their discharge as well.