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In Peru’s Deserts, Melting Glaciers Are a Godsend (Until They’re Gone)

The water has also transformed life on the coast.

About a decade ago, a Danish-Peruvian operation installed running water and electricity in the town of Huancaquito Alto, where the business was employing many residents in its packing plant. The town of 2,500 now has a municipal cleaning system that employs trash collectors.

“This was all grassland,” said Edgar García, a member of the town council, pointing at a new public plaza that was opened last year.

Mercedes Beltrán grew up in San Bartolomé, which was barely a village, with only three families. Her grandfather fished from a traditional reed raft. “There was no market, we bartered between ourselves,” she said.

Now her family plants asparagus for the American market, benefiting from competition between buyers that keeps prices high, she said.

Even the slightest reduction in the flow of the Santa River causes alarm here. The hydroelectric plant now provides power to 50,000 people; treated river water supplies 700,000 people.

“In years to come, we will be fighting over water,” said Mr. Gómez.

The government has struggled to offer solutions. One proposal would try to capture rain runoff from the Andes during the wet season in a large dam. But construction on the dam was led by Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company that admitted to paying $ 800 million in bribes throughout Latin America.

The dam is now “completely paralyzed,” with few signs that it will be starting again soon, said Miguel Chávez Castro, the director of the project.

Meanwhile, planners here continue to push for more irrigation. They are now eyeing desert tracts farther to the south for a new 80-mile canal that would, at least for now, supply another 50,000 acres of desert with water.

But Mr. García, the council member in Huancaquito Alto, is not taking any chances. He has refurbished an old well used by his father to hold water in the days before this area was irrigated, and he is building a new one near his asparagus fields.

“Because of this water, our children have been able to go to university,” he said. “But if there is no water from the Santa River, that all changes.”

He added: “We have to get our wells ready. Sure, it’s like going back in time, but what can we do?”

Source: NYT > World

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