Guest Post by Kip Hansen
I could not let this bit of silliness in the New York Times pass without comment as I have recently spent seven years in the Dominican Republic, doing various charity projects and humanitarian work on everything from a national to neighborhood scale, and specifically worked on projects in the very area mentioned. I tried emailing the author of the piece, Randal C. Archibold, but as of this evening, have received no response.
The story concerns Lago Enriquillo, in the very southwest corner of the Dominican Republic, and Lac Azeui, in the very southeast corner of Haiti, both on the island of Hispaniola.
Of course, as usual, the people mentioned in the story lived on the local mud flats, probably 50 or 100 year flood plains, right up to the edge of the water. Until the advent of government and international NGO help with irrigation schemes, this part of the country was empty desert — with almost no population and no agriculture. The banana plantations and other agriculture there all depend on INDRHI (water resources department) irrigation water only recently available.
Here are excerpts from the NY Times story…the usual unprecedenteds, suicide of a loved one, ‘must be climate change’, quite silly really, except for the local misery.
(Ezra Fieser contributed reporting from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.)
“LAGO ENRIQUILLO, Dominican Republic — Steadily, mysteriously, like in an especially slow science fiction movie, the largest lake in the Caribbean has been rising and rising, devouring tens of thousands of acres of farmland, ranches and whatever else stands in its way.
Lago Enriquillo swallowed Juan Malmolejos’s banana grove. It swamped Teodoro Peña’s yuccas and mango trees. In the low-lying city of Boca de Cachon, the lake so threatens to subsume the entire town that the government has sent the army to rebuild it from scratch on a dusty plain several miles away.
“Jose Joaquin Diaz believes that the lake took the life of his brother, Victor. Victor committed suicide, he said, shortly after returning from a life abroad to see the family cattle farm, the one begun by his grandfather, underwater.”
“He could not believe it was all gone, and the sadness was too much,” Mr. Diaz said, as a couple of men rowed a fishing boat over what had been a pasture.
“Theories abound, but a conclusive answer remains elusive as to why the lake — as well as its nearby sibling in Haiti, Lac Azuei, which now spills over the border between the two on the island of Hispaniola — has risen so much. Researchers say the surge may have few if any precedents worldwide.”
“The lakes, salty vestiges of an ancient oceanic channel known for their crocodiles and iguanas, have always had high and low periods, but researchers believe they have never before gotten this large. The waters began rising a decade ago, and now Enriquillo has nearly doubled in size to about 135 square miles, Mr. Gonzalez said, roughly the size of Atlanta, though relatively light rains in the past year have slowed its expansion. Azuei has grown nearly 40 percent in that time, to about 52 square miles, according to the consortium.”
“The scientists, partly financed by the National Science Foundation, are focusing on changing climate patterns as the main culprit, with a noted rise in rainfall in the area attributed to warming in the Caribbean Sea.”
“In reports, they have noted a series of particularly heavy storms in 2007 and 2008 that swamped the lakes and the watersheds that feed them, though other possible contributing factors are also being studied, including whether new underground springs have emerged.”
“People talk about climate change adaptation, well, this is what’s coming, if it’s coming,” said Yolanda Leon, a Dominican scientist working on the lake research.”
“Olgo Fernandez, the director of the country’s hydraulic resources institute **, waved off the criticism and said the government had carefully planned the new community and plots to ensure the area remains an agriculture hotbed. It will be completed this year, officials said, though on a recent afternoon there was much work left to be done.”
“These will be lands that will produce as well as, if not better than, the lands they previously had,” Mr. Fernandez said.”
** = This is the National Institute for the Development of Water Resources (Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo de los Recursos Hidraulicos – INDRHI) http://tinyurl.com/ltnmsm3
In all this drama, the journalist for the NY Times, apparently writing from the comfort of Mexico City, where he is bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, failed to mention the most important facts about Lago Enriquillo. It is famous for its ups and downs, water levels rising and falling with the rains and droughts.
Oh, and it is 140 feet below sea level.
Oh, you didn’t get that from the story? That’s because they didn’t mention it. Maybe Mr. Archibold didn’t know, maybe he didn’t think it was important. What that means of course is that any water that comes in, stays in — until it evaporates or is pumped out. They don’t pump it, it is salty as all get out, like the Dead Sea.
I have worked with Mr. Fernandez’s INDRHI on fresh water-well projects in the area and with the Dominican NGO <i>Sur Futuro — Future of the South</i> on reforestation projects. They are quite aware of what the most probable cause there is — deforestation. [The southwest of the DR is known as 'El Sur -- The South'] The hills have been progressively denuded, both in the DR and across the border in Haiti, when it rains, when the hurricanes and tropical storms come, the hills send ALL the water hurling down into the streambeds and rivers, they lead downhill — at the bottom of <b>this</b> watershed is Lago Enriquillo. Once the water arrives down there, it can’t get out again. Milder (yes, check the records for this locality) milder temperatures the last few years have meant less evaporation, adding to the problem. (For local reporting, see http://tinyurl.com/l9co6dv — in Spanish.) There is the added factor, detailed in the Spanish language reporting, the sediments which are washed down in the raging waters from the denuded hills are filling up the lake from the bottom, raising the water level as well. There is not much science being done on this, as far as I can tell, despite the “consortium of scientists”, none is reported in the NY Times piece.
On the social side, you see a whole little town of concrete block homes built on the sand to relocate the citizens of some threatened village on the lake shore. They are horrific — both the original and the replacement — but typical of government solutions in the DR. It is, however, better than the housing the people currently have. Those houses in the photo probably have bathrooms, for instance.
There is, really, no mystery. When you keep adding water to a bathtub, and take less out than comes in, it keeps filling up.
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