The reservoir was created by constructing a dam across the Suriname River between 1961 and 1964. The dam spanning the river is 54 m (177 ft) tall, and is built near the small town of Afobaka. Contrary to the reservoir’s long official name, it was quickly rechristenedBrokopondomeer by Dutch-speaking locals, after the town of Brokopondo a bit further downstream at which the dam was originally planned. The length of the dam, including secondary dams along the margins of the reservoir, is 12 km (7.5 mi). The watershedwhich feeds the reservoir is 12,200 km² (4,710 mi²) in area.
The reservoir was put into service in 1965, but did not reach its optimal water level until 1971. Due to the great area of the reservoir, villages home to approximately 5,000 people had to be abandoned. The largest of the these, the village of Ganzee, had approximately 2,000 residents. Most displaced residents simply founded new villages downstream from the dam, in many cases with the same names as the previously abandoned hamlets. A separate government operation, “Operation Gwamba,” was conducted to save animals from the soon-to-be lake bed.
The dam was constructed in order to provide electricity to plants involved in the processing of bauxiteinto alumina, and later into purer aluminum metal. These plants were operated by Suralco, the Suriname Aluminum Company, which is a daughter company of Alcoa. About 75% of the dam’s electricity was used to power these plants, and the portion of the electricity produced by the dam was used to power Suriname’s capital city, Paramaribo. Other advantages of the dam’s construction, besides a boost to the aluminum industry, have included the development of the country’s inland areas and the surrounding forests, the pushing back of the saltwater boundary in the Suriname River, better irrigation capabilities during times of drought, an increase in tourist activity, and an increase in ease of fishing.
Harvesting of trees
As a cost reducing measure, the trees of the area were not cut before they started to submerge. This caused problems for shipping activity in the lake. In 2002, Brokopondo Watra Wood International N.V. (BWWI) was given permission by Suralco to a start a pilot investigating the possibility to harvest the remaining trees from the lake. The idea came from the late Paramaribo entrepreneur Orlando Lee On, who read about similar harvesting efforts in the Tucuruí Lake in Brazil when on a plane to Miami. In 2004 harvesting began, which resulted in the first shipment of wood from the lake to Europe and the United States in June 2005. The Brokopondo lake wood is marketed in Germany as “Stauseeholz” (English: Reservoir wood). In November 2010, Jens Hahne filmed a documentary about the harvesting activities for the Franco-German channel Arte. This documentary was broadcasted on Arte on 22 January 2011.
BWWI N.V. strives to be the number one company regarding sawn wood for the export and/or local consumption. Given this desire, the company is always pushing the limits to increase the production of sawn wood. The production process regarding sawn wood is diversified, because the company feels that through a diversified production process it can broader its scope around the world.