As we’ve seen before in several posts, Brazil’s Northeast region is generally arid, once you get inland more than 100-150km. (The Sertão)

Credit: Wikipedia / Ministério da integração nacional. The green lines are the major new aqueducts

In an effort to spread some prosperity to this often poor interior region, the Brazilian Federal government has embarked on a gigantic program of public works, known as the “Transposição do Rio São Fransisco“, which will transport 1.4% of the São Fransisco River’s water, through hundreds of km of canals, aqueducts and underground tunnels. This is to be used for domestic consumption, agricultural irrigation, and industry.

A documentary on the project (Automatic subtitling in English is available in settings):

The São Fransisco is by far the most important river in the northeast, known to all here as Velho Chico, (Old Frank). It’s impact- environmentally, economically and historically, is immense. A current Globo TV show takes its name from the river, and the characters whose lives revolve around it.

Credit: Globo TV

So as you would expect, the project has been the subject of some controversy. I’m not going to get into the detail here, but you can read some of the criticisms yourself.

TV in Paraíba recently has been full of ads from the state government about their Viva Água Project, part of the overall Transposição plan. Sitting in a comfortable apartment block in João Pessoa, looking out at the summer rain, it seems a world away, but during our tour through the Sertão, we came across the works ourselves on a few occasions.

The Boqueirão dam (Açude Público Epitácio Pessoa) is getting an upgrade, to accommodate more water coming in from the south, and to increase outgoing supply to the nearby region. New large diameter pipes were being configured next to the road. We stopped here for lunch!

Aqueduct near MonteiroFurther long, just a few km after the Paraíba / Pernambuco border, near Monteiro, we drove across a bridge over one of the new canals. Still dry, and surrounded by construction equipment, it’s due to be connected soon.

The interior of the Sertão rises in parts to a plateau of 800-1000m, where it’s much often much colder than you’d expect at latitudes so close to the Equator. We passed through a city, Garanhuns, known as the “Switzerland of Pernambuco”, where temperatures can drop to as low as 7°C during the winter. They’ve even got a few replica alpine chalets, and flower clocks. Being so high, they also have a lot of wind, and thus the potential for power generation.

Near the town of Venturosa, we passed a site where wind turbine installation was taking place. The scale is truly enormous. Generators and tower segments the size of houses, turbine blades longer than a passenger aircraft. This site will eventually comprise 233 turbines, supplying 398MW of power, (enough for about 400,000 homes)

Despite all the international news headlines about Brazil focusing on the political instability, and the recession… There’s plenty of stuff developing here too, it’s not all bad news!