馃嚘馃嚪 馃惛 The Vibor贸n Lagoon, an important endangered wetland in Argentina

Located in the province of Mendoza, in western Argentina, this wetland, which was once home to more than 130 species of birds, is on the verge of drying up completely. Although it has been declared of conservation interest by the local government, the situation is getting worse and worse. Climate change and the use of water resources are the main causes…

With the different permanent lagoons, such as Bombal, La Paloma, Los 脕lamos and Soria and those that form temporarily, such as the lagoon of Montenegro and Lauriente; the Vibor贸n lagoon gives shape to what is called 鈥渢he Leyes-Tulumaya system鈥. This is a system of wetlands which occupies three municipalities of the province of Mendoza – from north to south – at the foot of the Andes. It is important to highlight that due to its great importance, in 2020, this system has been declared of conservation interest by the Ministry of the Environment of the Province of Mendoza, with the aim of promoting its conservation through direct actions of protection and restoration. The Vibor贸n Lagoon, on the other hand, has been declared an Area of 鈥嬧婱unicipal Ecological Interest and Sustainable Use by the department of Maip煤, by resolution 1383/08.

The Vibor贸n Lagoon is about 1.25 km long and has an irregular width of 300 to 30 meters in the distal part, but its extension has varied over the years. “According to the geological archives, this lagoon occupied, at the time, a much larger area than that currently measured”, assures Stella Moreiras, Doctor of Geological Sciences at CONICET (National Council for Scientific and Technical Research). She explains that this variability is associated with the flow of the Mendoza River. 鈥淒uring the season of heavy snowfall in the mountains, mainly associated on an interannual scale with periods of the El Ni帽o climatic phenomenon with above-normal precipitation, these systems received a greater water supply鈥she says.

The El Ni帽o phenomenon is a current corresponding to a phase warmer than usual called El Ni帽o Southern Oscillation or ENSO (abbreviation for El Ni帽o and Southern Oscillation) or ENOA (El Ni帽o-Oscillation Australe in French).

According to Jennifer Ibarra, president of the Cullunche Foundation, when the Vibor贸n lagoon was at its peak, it represented a great tourist attraction in the region and was home to more than 130 species of birds and different species of fish. 鈥淲e could observe species of birds, such as White Coscoroba (Coscoroba coscoroba), Black-necked Swans (Cygnus melancoryphus), White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi), Coots (Fulica), Black-necked Stilt (Cygnus melancoryphus), america (Himantopus mexicanus), the tero lapwing (Vanellus chilensis), the Ardeidae (Ardeidae), different species of ducks and even pink flamingos. There were also birds that occupied the surrounding areas, such as raptors or passerines, as well as aquatic mammals such as the nutria (a species of rodent)鈥assures the president of the foundation which promotes the conservation of fauna and flora, the balance of ecosystems and animal welfare in the province of Mendoza, Argentina.

The current situation of the Vibor贸n lagoon has changed a lot… This wetland has experienced a noticeable decrease in its supply of surface water, groundwater and groundwatermainly due to the water crisis that has plagued the region since 2009. This shortage has worsened over the past year. The average flows for the year 2021 were approximately 50% lower than the average historical flows (period 1956-2020). Jennifer Ibarra assures that today the lagoon has almost no water left. “It still retains moisture in the ground, but the water mirror is no longer visible”she points out.

Geographical location of the Vibor贸n lagoon in Argentina
漏 Stella Moreiras – License: All rights reserved

The causes of drought…

The current situation of this wetland cannot be explained solely and solely by drought, and, according to researcher Stella Moreiras, it can be subject to multiple variables. Being an environment strongly impacted by Man, “on the one hand, there is a quarrel around the surface water mainly required for agriculture or crop irrigation. On the other hand, there is an overexploitation of the underground resource”she confirms.

Furthermore, population growth in the region is an important point to mention because there is a greater use of water, which is distributed, in this province, by the General Department of Irrigation (DGI). Jennifer Ibarra assures that this organization refuses to send to the system what is called the minimum ecological quota of water to maintain the life and health of natural environments such as wetlands. “Added to this is the diversion of water to other sectors such as irrigation and agriculture or the creation of private neighborhoods with parks and swimming pools”she adds.

Moreover, the strong decrease in precipitation in the region in recent years is one of the main causes of the reduction – and perhaps the disappearance – of this lagoon. This is due to the fact that since its origins, the Leyes-Tulumaya wetland system has found its main avenue of maintenance in the annual high mountain snowfalls. This is confirmed by Jennifer Ibarra, who points out that in recent years it has snowed less and therefore there is less water. 鈥淭his Andean province depends on snowfall and as we say here, our water reservoir is in the mountains. 禄

鈥nd the environmental impacts that its disappearance could cause

The consequences generated by the drought of this lagoon are enormous. There are impacts on the local environment and ecosystem because wetlands are part of the water cycle; part of the water is filtered and recycled in these environments. 鈥淭his wetland regulates climate, temperature and humidity, especially in this region鈥says the president of the Cullunche Foundation.

On the other hand, damage to local biodiversity is irreparable. Obviously, there are no more fish and the place will no longer be a permanent or temporary habitat for countless species. Indeed, this wetland also acts as a passageway for many migratory species that move to other regions.

Moreover, as Jennifer Ibarra explains, there is negative economic consequences for the local population since the entire production chain, for example that of vegetables and fruits that are consumed in the city of Maip煤, comes from this system which will be hit hard by the lack of water. The absence of tourism is a great economic loss, while the splendor of this great mirror of water unique in the region and its many recreational activities, such as sport fishing, attracted many tourists.

To summarize, wetlands have great benefits for the environment, biodiversity and human well-being, and that’s why it’s so important to keep them. They are key ecosystems for adaptation to climate change and mitigation of desertification processes; they serve as a supply of fresh water for consumption and production; they serve as habitat for animals; they provide food to the population; they help reduce the impact of storms, floods and droughts; and they are sites of significant cultural and educational interest.

lagoon-viboron-drought
Vibor贸n Lagoon (Argentina) in 2022
漏 Stella Moreiras – License: All rights reserved

There is still time to save the Vibor贸n lagoon

It is clear that action must be taken now if the recovery and conservation of the Vibor贸n lagoon and the entire Leyes-Tulumaya wetland system are to be achieved. According to Stella Moreiras, member of CONICET, it is the municipality of Maip煤, through the mayor and his council, which must act quickly to preserve the water of the lagoon. “It is necessary to take measures so as not to continue to impact this resource, from the quality of the water to the activities that result from it”, she confirms.

The Municipality of Maip煤 has confirmed that, with the aim of recovering part of the water from the lagoon, they are launching a tamarind eradication plan; an invasive species very present in this area that consumes a lot of water. In addition, the Ministry of the Environment of this municipality assures that it does not own the water management and that it has been facing the water crisis for more than 10 years.

For its part, the General Irrigation Department (DGI), which had already carried out hydraulic checks on the site and had analyzed both the hydrological situation of the body of water and the hydrogeological conditions of the area of 鈥嬧媔nfluence, indicates that the water body has been affected by the general situation of the water crisis in the region. Faced with all these responses, Jennifer Ibarra says that everyone is hiding behind climate change and the region’s water stress to justify what is happening. 鈥淭here is no political decision, interest or desire to save these wetlands鈥she says.

Regarding the future of the Vibor贸n lagoon, Stella Moreiras is betting that the system can still recover as it has done before. However, she assures that for this to be the case, it is necessary to carry out detailed studies on the behavior of the lagoon. As for Jennifer Ibarra, she thinks that the lagoon can still be saved by diverting water to fill it and if the General Department of Irrigation respects the law of the minimum ecological quota. 鈥淭here is also a need to educate, inform and sensitize officials and legislators that safeguarding wetlands is a matter of environmental and economic health鈥she concludes.


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