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


Description:

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].

The sugarcane agroindustry has been arriving to these territories since 1944 and other companies appeared in the last two decades of twentieth century [3]. The cane agroindustry of the Cauca and La Cabaña sugar mills along with the companies such as Propal S.A and industrial parks in Caloto, Villa Rica and Puerto Tejada have obtained benefits from this water body. The contamination of the Palo river has directly or indirectly affected different municipalities since the last two decades of twentieth century, with the arrival of the agroindustry of sugarcane, the increase of the population, phenomena associated to climate change such as the El Niño phenomenon and mining and livestock production. In particular, Puerto Tejada is being greatly affected by the contamination of the river taking into consideration that 80% of the drinking water supply of this municipality is obtained from the Palo river, which is managed by the company EARPA S.A. providing water to its neighborhoods of the South and part of its rural area [4] [5].

Some leaders of Puerto Tejada have carried out collective actions for bringing solutions to the contamination of this river. In 1991, community leaders filed a lawsuit through a writ for protection of fundamental rights against La Cabaña sugar mill, the company Propal S.A., the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Valle del Cauca (CVC) -the regional environmental authority that had jurisdiction on the region in that time- and the municipal secretary of health in Puerto Tejada Circuit Criminal Court [6]. The claimants testified that the Palo river has been a source of work and life in the region and its contamination has brought serious impacts on the aquatic life such as the dead of fishes and, subsequently, economic and cultural effects on the population due to the liquid waste discharged from the Propal S.A company and the Cabaña mill and the inadequate protections of the river by the environmental authority [6].

The leaders won the lawsuit on 18 December 1992 (Sentence N° T-254/93), establishing that the private and public entities must fulfill their duties of the care and protection for the population and environment health. Less than one year later, on 3 February 1993, this decision was reversed by the High Court of Judiciary District of Cauca and, subsequently, confirmed eight months later (20 September 1993) by the Second Chamber of the Constitutional Court, arguing that the legal mechanism used by the petitioners was not appropriated, because it defends special rights for them instead of collective rights for the community. It was also argued that there was a lack of evidence for proving that the companies denounced along with the breach of the government entities were causing contamination of the river [6].

However, the company Propal S.A and sugar mills La Cabaña, Central Castilla and Incauca founded a non-profit organization called Corpopalo with the aim of establishing an integral management of the Palo river basin one month after that the High Court of Judiciary District of Cauca challenged the decision of Puerto Tejada Circuit Criminal Court [7]. 500.000 native species of trees were cultivated in 1995 by Corpopalo in order to preserve the river basin but a study reported in 1999 that the frequent burning of crops, deforestation, erosion and overgrazing were observed on the land zones of the river basin, affecting the quality of the drinking water of different municipalities [7].

As the Palo River became jurisdiction of the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Cauca (CRC), its director Carlos Alberto Castañeda initiated a lawsuit through a class action against the Puerto Tejada municipality and CRC in 2003 defending the environmental collective rights of the population [3]. On the 8th of April 2007, the Administrative Disputes Chamber ordered that the Puerto Tejada Municipality constructs a wastewater treatment plant with the purpose of restoring the ecological balance of the affected zones of the river. Until now the construction of a WTP is still in process. The huge amount of dragging material from the Palo river provided to different rivers such as the Cauca river has brought overflows since 2011 and the works of mining exploration and exploitation of the river have also caused the degradation of the river since 2013, affecting different local communities [8].

According to different studies carried out in the last years, the river Palo has currently a high level of pollution due to spills of industrial waste, inadequate agriculture to supply sugarcane fields and surrounding farms, deforestation, domestic waste and waste produced by the exploitation of materials from its bed legally and illegally, impacts of climate change, mining in the surrounding mountains and growth of the towns [8] [9]. The socio-environmental conflict of the Palo river is still present and the community of Puerto Tejada is waiting for an environmental solution in order to have a better quality of life.    

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Contamination of the River Palo and Agroindustry in Puerto Tejada, Colombia
Country:Colombia
State or province:Cauca
Location of conflict:Puerto 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
Deforestation
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Agro-toxics
Water access rights and entitlements
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Sugar

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Project area:4
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:45,840
Start of the conflict:1991
Company names or state enterprises:La Cabaña Sugar Mill
Central Castilla Sugar Mill
Propal S.A Company
Incauca Sugar Mill
Relevant government actors:Municipality 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 organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Asopalo, Corpopalo, Local leaders of Puerto Tejada, Caloto y Miranda, indigenous communities.

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Women
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Community-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

Impacts of the project

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-economical 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

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional 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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain: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

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[6] Corte Constitucional. (1993). Sentencia No. T-254/93. Recuperado 29 Junio 2017, desde
http://corteconstitucional.gov.co/relatoria/1993/t-254-93.htm#_ftnref5

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Alcaldía Municipal de Puerto Tejada. (2008). Plan de Desarrollo Municipal 2008-2011 "Unidos por Puerto Tejada", Republica de Colombia.
http://cdim.esap.edu.co/BancoMedios/Documentos%20PDF/plan%20desarrollo%20puerto%20tejada%202008-2011.pdf

[4] Alcaldía Municipal de Puerto Tejada. (2016). Plan de Desarrollo Municipal 2016-2019 "Todos por Puerto Tejada: Territorio de Paz", Republica de Colombia.
file:///C:/Users/Stephanye/Downloads/ACUERDO%20PLAN%20DE%20DESARROLLO%20PUERTO%20TEJADA%20CAUCA%202016-%202019.pdf

[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.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[9] EL TIEMPO. (1993, 20 septiembre). Río Palo arriba. Recuperado 3 Julio 2017, desde
http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-225698

[8] Barrera, Luis. (2016, 02 February). La Agonía del Río Palo, Las 2 Orillas. Recuperado 30 Junio 2017, desde
https://www.las2orillas.co/la-agonia-del-rio-palo/

[5] Alcaldía Municipal de Puerto Tejada. Información General del Municipio de Puerto Tejada. Recuperado 28 Junio 2017, desde
http://www.puertotejada-cauca.gov.co/informacion_general.shtml

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

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
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyRRAIcwUgI

Rodriguez. J. (2015, 28 September). Solución para recuperar el río Palo, Puerta Tejada, Colombia. Retrieved 1 July 2017, from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzfluHJm4ME

Other documents

River Palo at the municipality of Puerto Tejada. Photo by Luis Barrera, Las 2 Orillas, February, 2016, Public Domain, https://www.las2orillas.co/la-agonia-del-rio-palo/
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Rio-ElPalo-Cauca.jpg

The Palo river and extraction of materials. Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/El-río-Palo-muere-al-ritmo-de-la-minería-y-la-contaminación1_edited.jpg

Meta information

Contributor:Stephanye Zarama-Alvarado, Researcher
Last update07/08/2017

Images

 

Degradation of the Palo river.

Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.

Degradation of the Palo river.

Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.

Degradation of the Palo river.

Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.

Degradation of the Palo river.

Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.

Degradation of the Palo river.

Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.

Degradation of the Palo river.

Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.

Degradation of the Palo river.

Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.

Degradation of the Palo river.

Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.

Degradation of the Palo river.

Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.

River Palo at the municipality of Puerto Tejada.

Photo by Luis Barrera, Las 2 Orillas, February, 2016, Public Domain, https://www.las2orillas.co/la-agonia-del-rio-palo/

Degradation of the Palo river.

Photo by the Proclama del Cauca, 20 February 2016, Public Domain, https://www.proclamadelcauca.com/2016/02/76517.html.