Monday, June 11, 2012

No Chingaza Dos!

A paramo, or high-altitude wetland in Chingaza National Park. Building the Chingaza II reservoir would have meant flooding more ecosystems like this one. (Photo: Wikipedia)
The news this past week that Bogotá has decided against building a new water reservoir called Chingaza II is a victory for the environment in many ways.

The existing Chingaza Reservoir.
(Photo: Nayrita,
Bogotá now gets 80% of its drinking water from the Chingaza Reservoir, located southwest of Bogotá and surrounded by a National Park of the same name. The Chingaza provides more water than the city needs now or is projected to for years to come. But there's a problem. An increasing amount of that water is polluted - so dirty that water treatment facilities can't make it drinkable.

The plan to build a second reservoir, to be called Chingaza II, really amounted to ignoring the pollution problems, which are caused by deforestation, cattle grazing and other human activities in the reservoir's watershed, as well as industrial run-off into the Bogotá and other rivers. Building a second reservoir without solving those problems would only mean flooding more land and destroying more biodiversity in order to generate more polluted water.

Bogotá has also done little to reduce water consumption, which is a much cheaper and envionmentally sound strategy than flooding more wildlands with yet another expensive reservoir. How about water conservation requirements for new housing and office construction? Or retrofitting existing buildings with low-flow showerheads and toilets? Such policies would not only save water and energy, but also lower the cost of living for residents.

But the decision is also a move towards sound environmental planning for other reasons. Right now, Bogotá is in a quiet dispute with surrounding municipalities over water supplies. Historically, Bogotá has sold water to surrounding areas from its Chingaza supply, and let those regions decide how to use it. But, in a far-reaching policy shift recently, Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro said the capital would no longer give those areas water to build new sprawl developments. That hopefully signals a shift away from the gobbling up of natural areas for development to denser 'vertical' growth within the existing city limits. And limiting urban sprawl also means less land paved over, more use of public transit and less pollution from vehicles.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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