The Paraná River is located in the South Central region of South America, and flows through three countries: Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. With a length of 3,030 miles, the Paraná is one of the longest rivers in South America, surpassed only by the legendary Amazon River. The river's name is derived from the from the phrase "para rehe onáva," which means "as big as the sea" in the Tupi language, an ancient language that was spoken by the Tupi people of Brazil. The Paraná first joins the Paraguay River and then flows downstream, where it merges with Uruguay River to form Rio de la Palata, which eventually drains into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Paraná in Brazil
The Paraná River begins at the confluence of two rivers, the Paranaiba and the Rio Grande in the south of Brazil, and then runs approximately 385 miles southwest before exiting Brazil and entering Paraguay near the city of Saltos del Guairam, which was once home to the famous Guaira Falls that were flooded during construction of the Itaipu Dam in 1984.
The Paraná in Paraguay
For the next 120 miles, the Paraná flows south and forms a natural boundary between Paraguay and Brazil until it joins with the Iguazu River. A short distance upstream, however, the river is dammed by the second biggest hydroelectric power plant in the world, the Itaipu Dam. Smaller only the China's Three Gorges Dam, the Itaipu creates a large reservoir.
The Paraná in Argentina
After merging with the Iguazu River, the Paraná forms another boundary, this time between Paraguay and Argentina. Here, Encarnacion, Paraguay is separated from the town of Posadas, Argentina by the Paraná River. The river then continues its course south for 290 miles, where it changes direction towards the Paraguay River 510 miles away. Before it joins the Paraguay River, which is the largest tributary along its course, it flows through the Yacireta Dam, another hydropower project. The dam is a joint initiative of Paraguay and Argentina. However, the dam has caused problems in the local area, largely because of the reservoir created by the dam. In particular, the dam has caused the water level of the river to rise, resulting in flooding in certain parts of Encarnacion.
The Atlantic Ocean
After the Paraná joins with the Paraguay River, it flows south for approximately 510 miles across Argentina, but as it nears the city of Rosario, it turns slightly east for its final 300 miles. The Paraná joins the Uruguay River, forming the Rio de la Plata, and ultimately empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
Significance of the Paraná River
The sheer size of the Paraná River and the distance it covers creates one of the largest drainage basins in the world. Additionally, the Paraná and its tributaries are a source of income for the fishing industry. These factors, coupled with the major hydroelectric power projects at several points of the river, make the Paraná an invaluable water body.