Tuesday, September 3, 2013

As reservoirs shrink and farms expand, Chile’s agriculture at risk

Sarah Tory and Rosalind Adams in the Santiago Times (Chile): ... In February, President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency in six of the Valparaíso Region’s municipalities, five of which are in the province of Petorca.

Drought hits the smallest farms hardest since they don’t have as much land to plant extra crops as insurance against extreme weather events or seasons with low yields. But it’s not just farmers who are impacted. Agriculture employs nearly twenty-five percent of Chile’s labor force and with less water in irrigation dykes, farmers are planting less. That means less produce to sell, but also less fruit to pick and pack, slashing jobs.

For Petorca’s farmers, the water crisis is particularly acute. The valley has no reservoirs, and therefore lacks the local regulation that occurs through committees, known as Juntas de Vigilancia, which allocate water from the reservoir for those who own water rights.

According to Chile’s water law, the General Water Directorate (DGA) grants water rights as long as water is available in a river or lake. With the river now dry, farmers must rely on groundwater sources that are much harder to regulate because few studies have measured how much the underground aquifers hold.

Pablo Alvárez, a professor of agronomy at the Universidad de La Serena in Ovalle, who studies water resources in the area, said this lack of regulation means many of Petorca’s farmers have a winner-takes-all attitude toward water.... 

A 2001 shot in the Valparaiso region, shot by Quintupeu, public domain

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