By Dario Aranda
You can walk in a lake and not get your feet wet. It happens in Chubut, where a 53,000 hectare lake disappeared. The political and business sector blames the "weather and the few snowfalls." Neighbors contribute other factors: the large ranchers built dozens of illegal channels (they even have private lagoons), the oil companies consume water without any control and the millionaire Bulgheroni family built an embankment (also illegal) in the middle of the river that brought water to the lake. missing. The picture may get worse: the Senguer River and Musters Lake are in decline. 500 thousand people drink water from there.
Sarmiento is located south of Chubut, on the road between the coast (Comodoro Rivadavia) and the Cordillera). It has 20 thousand inhabitants and is known as "the city of lakes"; This is the name of one of its main hotels and is remembered by tourist advertising. It refers to the proximity to the Musters and Colhue Huapi lakes ("reddish island" in Mapuzungun, Mapuche language).
“It is the opposite of a mirage: Lake Colhue Huapi instead of appearing on the horizon, is disappearing. If the current process continues, the desert will go from Sarmiento to Comodoro Rivadavia ”, this newspaper warned in 2000, in an article by Carlos Rodríguez. From the Intendancy they had asked the Nation for help due to the serious situation. There was never a response (neither from the province nor from the national Executive). Sixteen years later, the nightmare came true: the great body of water, with a surface area similar to 2.5 times the City of Buenos Aires, no longer exists. It is just cracked earth and, wind through, dust clouds that reach Comodoro Rivadavia (more than 100 kilometers).
Last May, the appearance of a lost plane in the 1960s made national news. Found by a villager in the dry riverbed. Buenos Aires newsmen traveled to Sarmiento to report on the incident, but why the lake had dried up was not news. A Sarmiento neighbor commented on Facebook, outraged. Another neighbor joined in and contributed some data on water consumption from oil companies. A third commented on clandestine ranch channels. The Assembly of Self-convened Neighbors for the Water of Sarmiento was beginning to take shape.
"It is incredible that a lake disappears and, even more incredible, that everyone pretends that nothing happened," questioned Alex Kingma, member of the Neighborhood Assembly. He pointed to political officials and also to the media: "It is easy to blame nature, climate change, and there is probably some of that, but there is also the hand of man and they hide that."
The Colhue Huapi is part of a water system that begins in the Cordillera, Lake Fontana and La Plata, continues along the Senguer River and Musters Lake, from which an arm emerges (called "false Senguer" or Asher ("that gives life ", In the Mapuche language), which feeds Lake Colhue Huapi. The system is chained. The downspout in the Senguer River affects Lake Musters, and at the same time in Colhue Huapi.
Neighbors managed to fly over the upper basin of the river and recorded images of the large illegal channels. A dozen great rooms. Ariel Ñancucheo is a family agricultural producer, agronomist and part of the Assembly. He explained that these are ranches of between 10,000 and 30,000 hectares, which take water from the river to spread it on the plateau "without any irrigation logic." He stated that they flood between 500 and 3000 hectares per farm, creating mallines (wetlands) where there shouldn't be.
They also denounce the Frutos de los Lagos company (owned by the millionaire Bulgheroni family, owner of the oil company Pan American Energy –PAE–). Dedicated to wines and cherries, she built an illegal embankment in the middle of the Asher River. The images show how the embankment divides the river, and directs most of the water to Frutos de los Lagos and only one line runs towards Colhue Huapi.
The Provincial Water Institute (IPA) just met with the neighbors last September. Its president, Gerardo Bulacios, insisted on the official version of the scarce snowfall and rain. And he denied the effect of the oil companies and ranch channels. The neighbors proposed to accompany him to the Bulgheroni embankment (a few blocks from the center of Sarmiento), but the official rejected the proposal. The mayor, Ricardo Britapaja, who has governed for more than twenty years, did not advance against the large ranchers either.
Carolina Nicolia, also a neighbor of Sarmiento, pointed to the oil activity. He highlighted the coincidence that as the activity approached Sarmiento the problems with the water began. The companies that operate in the area are Pan American Energy, YPF, Sipetrol and Cerro Negro. Before reaching the Muster Lake, the Senguer River enters Santa Cruz (it is known as “el elbow del Senguer”), where oil companies operate and also extract water without any control.
A 150-kilometer-long aqueduct is born in Lake Musters. A large diameter pipe enters the lake and carries water to the south of Chubut and north of Santa Cruz (Comodoro Rivadavia, Caleta Olivia, Rada Tilly), where 500 thousand people live. The aqueduct runs through all the oil areas, where there is no reliable record of the consumption of the companies.
Alex Kingma confirmed that Musters Lake dropped two meters in level and retreated more than ten meters from the shore (in a single year).
The provincial government has already taken action on the dry lake. It authorized fourteen drilling for oil companies in the Colhue Huapi bed.