The church has reappeared in the Isthmus. The church has reappeared in the Isthmus.

Farmers, fishermen fear Oaxaca drought

A 17th-century church has reappeared early this year in the valley flooded in the 1960s

The reappearance of an old church in a flooded valley of Oaxaca’s Isthmus region has become a warning for both farmers and fishermen that the dry season has arrived.

But the 17th-century Dominican church, normally submerged beneath the flood waters, has appeared a month earlier than last year due to a drought that Conagua, the National Water Commission, says has left the reservoir in which it sits at just 16% of its capacity.

The drought already threatens over 300 corn producers with the loss of close to 500 hectares of crops, and the situation could soon get worse.

The church was built in the 1600s in what was the town of Santa María Jalapa del Márques, which had been inhabited since pre-hispanic times. But the town was flooded when the Presidente Benito Juárez dam was built there in the 1960s, nearly doubling the agricultural potential of the region by making the waters of the Tequisistlán and Tehuantepec rivers available for irrigation.

Besides supplying the Pacific coast port of Salina Cruz and its refinery with the much needed liquid, the dam enabled farmers in nearly a dozen municipalities to benefit from the new water source.

But the benefits are reduced when there’s a drought.

As a precautionary measure, Conagua has announced that it will limit water distribution in the region, which has raised concerns for over 7,000 farmers.

“This will be catastrophic. If we don’t have enough rain, there will be no water available for the fall-winter cycle,” said the leader of a local farmers’ organization.

Over 70,000 hectares of corn and 30,000 of sorghum could be affected and even lost.

Producers have asked Conagua and the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) for assistance measures, including the drilling of deep wells to be used in times of drought.

Over 800 fishermen are also seeing their livelihoods threatened.

One of those dismissed the assertion made by Conagua that the dam is at 16% capacity, claiming that the level is well below that. And if the drought continues, he warned, May the reservoir will be dry by May.

“I say the dam is at 10% capacity. Just today, in over three hours the water dropped a lot, like 300 meters from the dock,” said Juan Olivarez Cruz.

A water project that was ambitious and successful — for a time — has now reached its limit. Prolonged droughts and an ever increasing demand for water could soon make the seasonal reappearance of the old church a permanent attraction in the Isthmus landscape.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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