Sunday, March 01, 2009

Starting to pay a debt with Venezuela's environment 

Aproximately, a year and a half ago I wrote a very detailed post on an environmental catastrophe taking place in north central Venezuela around the Lago de Valencia (Lake Valencia). Those not already familiar with the problems surrounding that lake should read that post.

There were two fundamental problems with Lake Valencia. The first was that the water in it was extremely polluted, so much so that humans should never even enter the lake, much less drink its water. The same goes for animals and even plants. The lake is therefore a dead lake.

The second problem is that because it is in a saucer like region with no natural outlet water only leaves the lake through evaporation. Due to water being piped into the area to supply the ever growing populations of Maracay and Valencia the natural balance of the lake has been disrupted and the lake levels are rapidly rising. These rising water levels are already flooding parts of Maracay and, if unchecked, threatened to flood virtually the entire city. As parts of Maracay were already being destroyed this was rapidly becoming a New Orleans type problem, only in slow motion.

It now appears the government has at least partially solved this problem. Today President Chavez inaugurated a water project that will remove at least some of the water that naturally flows into Valencia Lake, pipe to another area where it can be used for irrigatioin, and have it empty into another drainage basin. In fact, where I pointed out in my original post that the were piping 11,500 liters per second into the Valencia Basin this project will remove 7,500 liters per second from that basin and should therefore reduce the rise in the lake if not stop it all together.

To be sure, this is a big accomplishment and not a moment too soon. The lake was visibly rising and simply from driving by it a few times each year I could clearly see it was flooding more and more land. Stopping the rising waters was imperative and explains why they worked 24 hours a day seven days a week to complete this project.

Here are some videos explaining the project:

Haz click en cualquier video para verlo
Puedes ver otros en radiomundial.com.ve

The video with the engineer was particularly interesting as he expained some of the significant technical difficulties they ran into with the unusual geography of the area in addition to what a key role community liasons played in ensuring project/community collaboration and worker/management collaboration which helped the project proceeed smoothly and without interruptions.

He also made interesting points about how when past projects were built they weren't built to be scalable where as this one was. That is, things like tunnels were built signifacantly bigger than they needed to be right now so that if in the future they need to put additional piping through them they can without having to expand them or build new tunnels.

The project cost aproximately $100 million but this was clearly money well spent solving a problem that was truly urgent.

Of course, Valencia Lake is still highly contaminated and that in and of itself is a major problem that this project doesn't fix. Fixing that problem will probably be much more expensive. Still this is a HUGE and CRITICAL first step. President Chavez, the Environment Ministry and all the workers on this project deserve to be congratulated for the work they've done on this.


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