Colombia’s Guatape, known for its vibrant landscapes and the iconic reservoir, is facing a critical drop in water levels due to the El Niño phenomenon. This event, unfolding in the heart of Antioquia, has raised concerns over water scarcity and its ripple effects on the local ecosystem and the tourism-dependent economy.
Addressing the crisis
Antioquia authorities have responded quickly to the issues faced by Guatape’s declining water levels. To maintain sustainability, measures such as rationing and encouraging efficient water usage are being implemented. These actions are part of a larger plan aimed at protecting the region’s natural resources while also assisting the people and companies that depend upon them.
The level of the Guatape dam has dropped so low in the past 60 days that visitors have had to search for the deepest areas. The low waters had already stopped helicopter and boat journeys, ripped up big sandy beaches, and reminded people of the previous great drought, in 2020, which ended during the pandemic.
The lowering of the affluents that feed the Guatape basin has exposed vast beaches, which are utilized by the area’s builders to harvest sand for construction work.
According to Ideam’s (Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies) daily record, the water level has dropped by 21% in only 60 days, affecting 33 businesses working on the Guatape malecon and a total of around 300 boats.
According to Carlos Campuzano of the business Guatape Transporte Fluvial, the shallow depths make it impossible for visitors to reach the wells, leaving numerous boats in the lower areas. To put it simply, vessel operators must monitor the dam’s level every day and shift boats to avoid collisions.
“On the road, you notice a hole in the distance, but you can’t see it in the water, making it tough to avoid.” Campuzano reports that rocks in the shallow waters have caused extensive damage to helicopters and transmissions.
A low water level poses hazards not just to boats, but also to swimmers. According to El Peñol fire station captain Henry Berrío, when the water level drops, the terrain’s uneven morphology becomes obvious, causing boats to crash or roll. To prevent accidents, navigators must pay close attention to signals put by residents such as sticks, ribbons, and colored textiles.
To avoid impediments on the bed, Commander Berrío suggests boats should travel at a slower pace, and gives the following advice to swimmers: “Because the soil topology is continually changing, bathers must use caution before entering the water. They should not throw themselves off bridges because they may suffer trauma or injury from sticks or rocks.”
Water restrictions and waste clean-up
The dam’s low level has served a purpose: The community, the Civil Defence, and soldiers spent a day cleaning the shores of the San Juan del Puerto Malecon, collecting seven tons of waste, one ton of wood, 500 tires, and 400 kilos of recycled material that had been exposed as the water receded. The Mayor of Guatape has requested river firms to be more careful with waste, since the drivers dumped 90% of the stuff collected.
More than 15,000 residents in rural Medellín now face water restrictions.
The local government warned in late January last year that the El Niño phenomenon would persist during February, March, and April. The first rainy season of 2024 will not begin until May, despite the possibility of a few days of rain, as happened this week.