The operators of two hydroelectric dams in Brazil must redo environmental impact studies after suspicions they have contributed to extensive flooding.
A federal court injunction issued on Monday in the western state of Rondonia also ordered them to provide food, temporary housing and transport for more than 11,000 people forced to leave their homes by the rising waters of the Madeira River, the Amazon's largest tributary.
The two dams are part of an array of hydro projects that Brazil plans to build in the Amazon to cover power shortages and meet growing demand for electricity, but environmentalists say they will cause flooding and devastate indigenous communities.
The injunction was sought by federal and state prosecutors who last week sought the suspension of the dams' licenses until their impact on the environment can be assessed again.
Though the Madeira reached its highest level on record this week, cutting off highways and flooding dozens of villages upriver from the state capital of Porto Velho, the court said there was not enough evidence at present to link the flooding to the Santo Antonio and Jirau dams and gave the companies 90 days to show they are doing new environmental impact studies.
French multinational utility GDF Suez is a shareholder in Energia Sustentável do Brasil, which operates the 3.75GW Jirau dam, now in its final phase of construction.
Down river, the Santo Antonio dam, which began generating electricity in 2012, is owned by Furnas Centrais Elétricas, a unit of state-controlled Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras – known as Eletrobras – and Cia Energética de Minas Gerais, or Cemig.
Last week, the country's national grid operator ONS ordered the lowering of the water level of the Santo Antonio reservoir to avoid impacting construction work at Jirau, and the dam's turbines were shut down.
The companies said the floods were caused by heavy rainfall in neighbouring Bolivia and not by their run-of-the-river dams, which need smaller reservoirs than other hydroelectric projects. Bolivia has asked Brazil to explain whether the dams are causing the flooding in its territory.