Guest Essay by Kip Hansen
In previous episodes: In January of 2014, the NY Times published an article “Rising Tide Is a Mystery That Sinks Island Hopes” by Randal C. Archibold, in which the waters of Lago Enriquillo, in the southwest corner of the Dominican Republic, were claimed to be rising and flooding farms and towns there due to climate change. I responded with an essay here “NYT Pushes the Rising Tide of Climate Nonsense – This time in the Dominican Republic” and followed up 14 months later with “Lago Enriquillo Revisted”, which ended with this promise: “It will be interesting to see how the lake fares over the next couple of years. I’ll try to write an update next year.”
Lago Enriquillo is a hyper-saline lake in the southwest corner of the Dominican Republic (DR), on the island of Hispaniola, in the northern Caribbean. Its surface is about 145 meters below sea level, covering part of the floor of a rift valley, in an arid region complete with cactus which to me looks like many parts of eastern Southern California or Arizona. Several years ago, my wife and I were managing humanitarian projects in the Dominican Republic and spent a lot of time in “el Sur” – as the Dominicans call the southwest corner of the country. We had recurring projects in the city of Barahona and reforestation and irrigation projects in one of the side valleys leading off of the Yaque Sur river valley.
A couple more images will help fill in the geography of the area:
The image above shows the “cuencas”, the watersheds, of the region. The two that concern us are the large YaqueSur valley watershed through which the Rio Yaque Sur winds its way down to the sea at Barahona and the Lago Enriquillo watershed in which all water there flows down into the lake, from which there is no outlet.
The general geography is this:
In this map it is hard to see that the two watershed are separate – but I have penciled in a black line showing that the divide that runs more or less due north from the smaller lake near the bay. (This divide becomes important later.) The small red rectangle in the upper right is the location of the Rio Las Cuevas valley, where several of our reforestation and irrigation projects took place.
In 2013/14, there was great concern locally that the lake was expanding, the water rising, and this increase in size was impinging on local settlements on its shores – flooding grazing areas, banana farms and little towns of cinder-block homes. The flooded areas are shown on the map above in red. The land and homes that were being flooded were those of some of the country’s poorest people, increasing the toll. These people were there because, years earlier, when the lake decreased in size, the shoreline receded and made available land that wasn’t already owned by anyone.
Starting in the mid-1980s, the lake began to shrink, losing 100 km2 in surface area by the year 2003 – which means those 100 km2 were then dry land – available for the taking. And take they did, occupying land for agriculture and over time building small villages of shacks and concrete-block homes along the shore of the lake. This may seem odd to readers from countries where all the land has been owned by someone for hundreds of years but in the DR things are a bit looser and this type of squatting is rampant, even in cities.
So what do you suppose they did? They were looking at this situation:
(Note: This graph originally shows a point at 1965 that cannot be correct. The civil record shows no sudden 10 meter increase in depth of this lake, which would have caused massive flooding of towns along the lake’s north shore. No record exists of any such event, so I have penciled in (in blue) a guesstimate. Passing hurricanes dump water into the lake, but it continues to shrink.)
This wonderful lake, home to American salt-water crocodiles, is considered a national treasure and is designated a National Park. It is disappearing, shrinking, the salt concentration is rising, threatening fish. So, in 2003-2005, they dig canals from the Yaque Sur to the lake to add some fresh water. They dig more canals from the dam on the Yaque near Padre Las Casas to bring irrigation water from the Yaque Sur watershed into the Lago Enriquillo watershed.
There are persistent rumors about a broken dike or levee — such as “But then canals from the Yaque del Sur were constructed to keep water levels steady and the salinity at such a rate that marine life could continue to survive. But the lake surface area never expanded at the rate it did after one of the Yaque del Sur dykes broke following the storms in 2003”. There is no evidence for this theory, this rumor. See a fuller report on this in my essay “Lago Enriquillo Revisted“.
But only ten years after the panic that the lake was shrinking and disappearing, the panic shifted to “Rising Tide Is a Mystery That Sinks Island Hopes”. American engineering students from Cornell and CCNY had been sent down to do studies and write papers. Luna and Poteau of Cornell supply this longer-term data:
The water is rising and flooding land, higher than historic levels. My analysis to this point is given at the end of my previous essay: “Lago Enriquillo Revisted“.
I promised an update and here it is:
From the Dominican press:
For those of you who cannot read Spanish (although over 18% of New Yorkers can):
The pages are (machine-) translated by Google, with obvious errors and misunderstandings, but luckily, I can read Spanish. The lake levels have receded by 50 meters and the retreat began in 2013. Farmers are beginning to recover their lands that only a couple of years ago were underwater.
The receding waters are attributed to drought in the southwest DR over the last few years.
As for the recent history, we finally see this admission: “By 2013 this salinity had dropped significantly as a result of the large amount of fresh water coming from the rainfall that has accompanied the storms and hurricanes, as well as the contributions of Yaque del Sur [from] 2004 to 2012.” Which tends to confirm my suspicion that the rising lake was the result of human error (*on top of natural variation).
Last year I concluded: “In the case of Lago Enriquillo, in spite of the relationship between lake levels and incoming water, none of the major studies actually attempted to measure, or even estimate, in any way, the water being imported into Cuenca [watershed] Enriquillo from the Yaque Sur – even though they were attempting to understand where the extra water was coming from. This strikes me as an obvious oversight – or political correctness, not wishing to blame a government agency [INDRHI] for causing the problem.”
My best guess at this time? Remember, all water entering the Lago Enriquillo watershed stays there until evaporation removes it, there is no other outlet. So, basically, INDRHI [Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos – National Institute of Hydraulic Resources] had piped water to the lake (via canals) and into its watershed (as irrigation water) from the Yaque Sur and left the tap running for eight years – under one or more of the following circumstances: as upkeep and maintenance are not strong points of Dominican governmental agencies, the mechanism to control the flow of water into the lake was broken and never repaired properly or was ineffective from the start or possibly there was no “tap” ever installed to be shut off – at least until the lake level became an issue (around 2012).
This is not an accusation – things are not easy for government agencies in the DR – they seldom have adequate funding for even their most basic tasks and depend on foreign aid to accomplish all major projects (see note below). I suspect that the government not only built new homes for the displaced, better homes on better land, but quietly repaired the system that was allowing a run-away flow of water from the Yaque Sur into the lake. And, with the tap shut off, water is receding again.
Check back next year for another update – as time marches on and the Earth’s natural systems interact with human attempts to modify our environment.
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Note: For example, INDRHI had an existing program to supply isolated villages with clean drinking water by drilling wells. They had the well-drilling trucks and an expert grew to operate it, but no hand-pumps to install, no pipe, and no cement and no money to buy any. The NGO my wife and I managed arranged to have 500 pumps manufactured in India and shipped to the DR complete with well pipe and end-user repair kits. We purchased local cement. After three years, we financed an independent review by the UN’s WHO/PAHO (World Health Organization, Pan-American Health Organization) to recommend improvements to the process and program. In all, safe clean drinking water was supplied to 500 villages around the country over four years.
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Author’s Comment Policy:
Hope you don’t mind my following this interesting little story. It is an example of how the press and certain elements of society turn unexplained occurrences into stories that push their favorite politically correct hobbyhorses and advocacy positions.
Many of these situations, like the demise of amphibian species and honey bee hive collapse, take patience to let the science really find out what is going on. We must resist our urges to have a quick answer – the quick answers are almost always wrong.
In today’s world, “It’s Global Warming” or “Climate Change done it” are the quickie, and nearly always wrong, answers most commonly thrown at us by the CAGW fanatics, MSM and blindered Academia. (well, that and “The Russians, the Russians, …”)
In 2005, one of my children,
a [with her] newborn babe in arms, approached me and asked if I was worried about the future in light of the ongoing alarm about Global Warming. [correction h/t John M. Ware and Lance Wallace — one can never have too many editors – kh] I told that child, “Let’s give it five or ten years and see how it turns out.” Now we’ve had ten years of a pause in warming, or ten years of just a little warming [opinions vary], no disasters, and the hype is beginning to fade. My advice today would be, “Let’s give it another ten years and see.” I am patient when it comes to science issues.
Please keep the comments to topic (Lago Enriquillo) and if you are addressing me in your comment, begin with my first name “Kip….” so as to catch my eye.
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