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Drying of Quillagua by Chuquicamata and SQM, Chile

The drilling of Quillagua is a milestone in the mining conflict history in Chile. The almost complete acquisition of water rights from the Loa River by the minings left the town devoid of water for its economic practices and human consumption.

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In the Chilean Andes, more than 4,000 m.s.n.m. Chuquimata (from Codelco), the largest copper mine in the world, which operates since 1910, next to the city of Calama and rural and indigenous villages that are in the vicinity. The adjoining people Quillagua is an oasis in the Loa River basin, in the commune of María Elena northwest of Calama. There they lived until 2000 about 3000 people, who were displaced to the city of Calama, in order to free them from an unhealthy environment and at the same time, get the magnification of the mine.

The use and use of water for the operation, caused a conflict in the Quillagua Valley, which began to manifest itself in 1997, when the first pollution event of the waters of the Rio Loa, with substances is produced Chemicals such as xanthate and isopropanol, detergents and heavy metals, all elements used in copper processes, which were incorporated into the river by drafting from the translation of relay, provoking the biotic death of the river and impacting irrigation and human consumption From the village [1].

No authority was responsible for the environmental disaster. The Regional Conama identified as a cause of the Environmental Collapse to Old Tranque Sloman, a former sediment reservoir that served as a hydroelectric plant in times of the Salitre, although the evidence of the types of contaminants pointed to the Talabre Tranquer of the Copper Copper de Chuquicamata . Geological Studies, on the other hand, identified that there are connections of underground napas between the copper tailings reservoir and the LoA River that are within walking distance [2].

Many of the comunermen faced by the paralysis of their economic activities resulting from the pollution of the waters, they had to move from the people and even some had to sell their rights of water exploitation to the same mining [1]. Indeed, after a brief attempt to dynamize the economy through the production of charcoal, immediately banned by the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), in order to protect the forests, the inhabitants of Quillagua only remained to sell the Water rights As a solution to your crisis, making it in favor of the chemical and mining society of Chile, Soquimich. Of the 120 liters per second (L / S) enrolled in 1987, the inhabitants sold two thirds of their rights, remaining only 41 l / s. [3].

The sale of water rights meant the incomprehension of the other attacks, which were made to know, by the authorities, that Quillagua did not have water because he had sold his exploitation rights [3].

The year 2000, a new contamination event of the Loa waters deepened the Quillagua crisis , the waters now brought new contaminants. A report of the agricultural service and livestock SAG, identified as from Chuquicamata's tailings tranque to a large part of polluting substances, noting that high pollution made it advisable to not use the waters of Loa in Quillagua. However, since the last decades, the lack of water inclusive for irrigation has become further exacerbated since the Loa River no longer drains with its waters to the locality due to the captures of its waters above, by this and other mining machines Like Sooze A study conducted by the General Directorate of Aguas pointed out that the minimum reduction of the flow is related to the waters taken in Chacaance by Socimich, and in places not allowed, as well as through illegal constructions on the Rio Loa. Which led the institution to file a demand against Socimich for waterproof use [1].

currently 150 people, mostly elderly who are resisting to leave their houses. There are no basic services or drinking water, which must be provided by the City of Mary Elena through Aljibes trucks. The year 2000, at the request of the Atacamean indigenous community of the nearby town of Chiu-Chiu, the General Directorate of Aguas (DGA) declared the delivery of watering rights in the Loa River basin. This situation, far from signifying the end of the conflict, derived in a new pressure: the water uptake of underground napas. Thus, Codelco in his Chuquicamata division developed a project to extract it from the subsoil, with uncertain impacts on the total river flow. The year 2002, National Geographic Cathologized Quillagua as the driest place in the world [4].

To date, these two mining companies have the rights to take advantage of the torrents of the Rio Loa, which makes the water no longer reach the town, and the little one that is contaminated with minerals since the 1980s, causing gradual Death of crops and livestock. In 2006, there was only one inhabitant who had not abandoned the hopes of following agriculture, despite the fact that each year the high concentration of mineral and chemical substances in water burns plants and causes almost total crop losses [references . The inhabitants of Quillagua have in total rights for 45 liters of water per second, that despite being insufficient and the third part of the rights they had 30 years ago, would improve their quality of life, however, despite said rights, that Amount of water does not exist [5].

The authorities of the Antofagasta region still do not give a definitive solution to the problem of water in Quillagua. The Municipality of María Elena provides the people with 60 thousand liters of water a week through aljibes trucks, which are used in the few plantations that subsist, animals and human consumption. Communists and commuters continue to work on the development of productive alternatives and measures to recover waters [5].

The intention of CODELCO-CHUQUICAMTA to extend its operations now through of underground farms caused protests and disconents since 2012. After almost 10 years of construction, 2019 Codelco celebrates the inauguration of its underground Chuquicamata mine, with the presence of government authorities, extending the useful life of the project at least about 40 years, and putting more than 700 kilometers from underground tunnels and caverns [6].

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Drying of Quillagua by Chuquicamata and SQM, Chile
State or province:Antofagasta.
Location of conflict:Calama.
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Long 5km open sky mine by 3km wide and 1km deep.

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Type of populationRural
Affected Population:150.
Start of the conflict:1997
Company names or state enterprises:Corporación Nacional del Cobre (CODELCO) from Chile
SQM from Chile
Relevant government actors:National Environment Commission, current Ministry of the Environment
Forest National Corporation - CONAF
Agricultural service and livestock SAG
General Management
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Aymara Community of Quillagua
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
Landless peasants
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Quechua village, Aymara and Atacameon
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession
Potential: Militarization and increased police presence, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The almost complete acquisition of water rights from the Rio Loa by the minings left the population devoid of water for its economic practices and human consumption. Given this, the population was in need of selling their water rights as an economic alternative, instead of the authorities to take letters in the matter of pollution of the Rio Loa, even with the reports of the studies that demonstrate the polluting origin Of the substances used in the mining industry of Chuquicamata-Codelco copper and the illegal use of waters by the Sooze mining, both minings that continue to operate to date.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Yáñez, N. y Molina, R. (2011) El Oasis de Quillagua sin aguas de riego. En Las Aguas Indígenas de Chile. Ed. LOM. Santiago, Chile.

[3] Carmona, J. (2013) Genealogía de un ocaso agrícola. Estructura agraria y reetnificación en el valle de Quillagua. Desierto de Atacama, II Región de Antofagasta, Chile. Tesis para optar al título de antropólogo. Universidad Academia de Humanismo Cristiano.

Yáñez, N. y Molina, R. (2008) La gran minería y los derechos indígenas en el norte de Chile. Ed. LOM . Santiago, Chile.

[2] OLCA (2014) Conflictos ambientales:"Quillagua, el pueblo al que la minería le arrebató el agua".
[click to view]

[4] Diario de Navarra (2016) Quillagua, el pueblo más seco del mundo, crece en medio de un extraño oasis.
[click to view]

[5] Coordinadora por la Defensa del Agua y la Vida (2013). Codelco y Soquimich agotan y contaminan el agua del oasis de Quillagua.
[click to view]

[6] Hatch (2019) La nueva mina Chuquicamata subterránea inaugura sus operaciones en Chile.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Fotografías históricas de la construcción, explotación y pueblo minero de Chuquicamata.
[click to view]

Cortometraje 2014: Quillagua, el pueblo chileno más seco del mundo.
[click to view]

Cortometraje: Quillagua, el pueblo chileno más seco del mundo.
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update29/04/2020
Conflict ID:770
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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