Contamination of the River Palo and Agroindustry in Puerto Tejada, Colombia

Liquid waste discharged from the Propal S.A company and the Cabaña mill and other polluting activities caused serious pollution of one of the most important water sources of the Cauca department


The Palo River is considered the principal water body that supplies the drinking water and hydroelectric power to different municipalities of the department of Cauca. This water body has also been a means of transport, space of recreation and sport as well as the livelihood for families, which dedicate to the fishery and the extraction of building materials including sand and ballast. Especially, the river Palo is the source of energy production of the micro power plant that provides the municipalities of Caloto, Padilla and Guachené and the source of the regional aqueduct of the north of Cauca that supplies the municipalities of Caloto, Villarrica and Puerto Tejada. It is also one of the main affluents of the Cauca river contributing 35.90m3seg [1] [2]. The area of the Palo river basin is 1.471,01 Km2 and its length of main channel is 46.21km. Its’ main tributaries are López, Jambaló y La Paila rivers [2]. The intervention of different actors on the river basin produced the division of its geographical area in three zones: the indigenous communities in the upper zone, afrodescents in the middle zone and settlers and agroindustry in the lower zone [1].

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Basic Data
NameContamination of the River Palo and Agroindustry in Puerto Tejada, Colombia
SitePuerto Tejada
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Water access rights and entitlements
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific CommoditiesSugar
Project Details and Actors
Project Area (in hectares)4
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population45,840
Start Date1991
Company Names or State EnterprisesLa Cabaña Sugar Mill
Central Castilla Sugar Mill
Propal S.A Company
Incauca Sugar Mill
Relevant government actorsMunicipality of Puerto Tejada

Regional Autonomous Corporation of Valle del Cauca (CVC)

Regional Autonomous Corporation of Cauca (CRC)

The municipal secretary of health in Puerto Tejada
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersAsopalo, Corpopalo, Local leaders of Puerto Tejada, Caloto y Miranda, indigenous communities.
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Occupational disease and accidents
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Infectious diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseInstitutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.As the contamination of the river Palo is still present, the community of Puerto Tejada is being affected and facing the detriment of the quality of life of its inhabitants.
Sources and Materials

[6] Corte Constitucional. (1993). Sentencia No. T-254/93. Recuperado 29 Junio 2017, desde
[click to view]


[2] Alcaldía Municipal de Puerto Tejada. (2008). Plan de Desarrollo Municipal 2008-2011 "Unidos por Puerto Tejada", Republica de Colombia.
[click to view]

[4] Alcaldía Municipal de Puerto Tejada. (2016). Plan de Desarrollo Municipal 2016-2019 "Todos por Puerto Tejada: Territorio de Paz", Republica de Colombia.
[click to view]

[1] Correa, D., M. y Díaz, C., M. (2012). Tensión entre justicia social y justicia ambiental en la gestión del agua: Estudio de caso cuenca del río Palo. Revista interdisciplinar de gestão social, Vol. 1 N°. 1, pp. 215-228.

[3] Uribe, C., H. (2016). Tesis de Doctorado: Comunidades del Valle Geográfico del Río Cauca en Acción Colectiva Ambiental Frente a la Agroindustria Cañera, Universidad del Valle.

[7] ZAMBRANO, Bernardo. (1999). Planificación de fincas para el manejo integral y el desarrollo sostenible en la subcuenca Palo Alto, Cauca. En: Conservación de suelos y aguas en la zona Andina. Hacia el desarrollo de un concepto integral. Karl M. Moüller-Sämann y José María Restrepo. Cali: Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical.


[9] EL TIEMPO. (1993, 20 septiembre). Río Palo arriba. Recuperado 3 Julio 2017, desde
[click to view]

[8] Barrera, Luis. (2016, 02 February). La Agonía del Río Palo, Las 2 Orillas. Recuperado 30 Junio 2017, desde
[click to view]

[5] Alcaldía Municipal de Puerto Tejada. Información General del Municipio de Puerto Tejada. Recuperado 28 Junio 2017, desde
[click to view]

Media Links

Noti Puerto Tejada. (2016, 29 August). Reunión de líderes tratando el tema de la contaminación del río palo, Puerto Tejada. Retrieved 1 July 2017, from
[click to view]

Rodriguez. J. (2015, 28 September). Solución para recuperar el río Palo, Puerta Tejada, Colombia. Retrieved 1 July 2017, from
[click to view]

Other Documents

River Palo at the municipality of Puerto Tejada. Photo by Luis Barrera, Las 2 Orillas, February, 2016, Public Domain,
[click to view]

The Palo river and extraction of materials. Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain,
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorStephanye Zarama-Alvarado, Researcher
Last update07/08/2017