Residents urge saving the Laja River

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

“We are concerned about the stealing of sand and the continued devastation of the Laja River in San Miguelito,” said environmentally concerned residents who live near the river. “We are not stealing sand. We have our permit and we will not be hiding from anyone,” claimed a member of the Unión de Paleros del Laja S.C. (Association of Front Men of the Laja S.C.), which has authorization granted by the CONAGUA (National Commission of Water). “The municipal authorities must be involved in this process. If they need some help from Save the Laja River we can provide it, in order to inform the federal authorities that the granting of that concession is putting the fragile river ecosystem at risk. For us, as inhabitants of the area, it is worrisome, and actions supported by the municipality must be taken to stop the extraction of sand, which although legal does not respect the clauses of the permit,” commented Agustín Madrigal, director of Salvemos el Río Laja (Let’s Save the Laja River).

According to the website of Salvemos el Río Laja, this river is a tributary of the Río Lerma. The Laja rises in the mountains in the north and west of the state of Guanajuato. The main branch of the Laja is 200 miles long and it fills the Presa Allende before flowing south through one of Mexico’s largest agricultural areas where fruits and vegetables are grown for export to the United States and Canada. Salvemos el Laja is a nonprofit organization founded in 1998 by Susan Porter with the goal of preserving the Laja watershed.

Plan for preventing flooding

In August 2012, residents from San Miguelito 2 alerted the public about the environmental damage to the river in the area near the bridge connecting Atotonilco and San Miguelito, where several trees were taken down. Although the 2009–2012 administration never discovered the total number of trees removed, a resident commented that there were between 45 and 50 that were planted between 50 and 60 years ago. Ramiro Arroyo, then director of the Civil Protection Department, commented that the trees were planted five years ago, and another resident of San Miguelito said, “The trees were planted more than 10 years ago. I helped my father plant the trees when he was still alive.” The residents also said that before the trees were removed the area “was beautiful; there was green grass where the children used to play and the women danced zumba, and also there were some ropes where the children used to swing.”

In September 2012, Arroyo told Atención that after an inspection by CONAGUA and some state and local authorities, among them the Civil Protection Department, it was determined that the Laja (in the affected area) along a 500-meter stretch was clogged with silt and an extraordinarily strong current could cause the river to overflow its banks, damaging the houses of four families and the chapel of San Miguelito. For that reason, the local government asked permission from CONAGUA to clean up the area, which was granted, allowing the local government to eliminate any obstacle in the water course, even trees within the waterway.  About two dozen trunks from the eliminated trees were replanted on the river banks. Although Arroyo commented that thanks to the type of tree and the soil nutrients the trees would grow again without problems, they remain dry and lifeless. The trees were used as firewood by the locals and the sand mixed with silt was stored by Materiales El Talego. Ramiro Arroyo said that later CONAGUA would decide what to do with the material.

The current problem

Some residents from San Miguelito and Atotonilco came to Atención to denounce the illegal extraction of sand from the Laja River, damage to the environment due to the tree cutting and even the invasion of private land by the concessionaires. According to the residents, “every day five or ten truckloads of sand are stolen from the river, in an area that is even federally protected.” “Currently, one of the residents has a permit from local authorities to extract sand and sell it for a five-year period,” noted a letter. According to Robert Johnson, who lives near the river, the elimination of trees near the bridge was just part of a master plan to create an access for the current concessionaires so they could extract the sand, because there was not an entrance to the river. Johnson commented that now the problem is also that the river is accessible day and night, and even during the night there are people taking down trees. Johnson commented that roads created by the concessionaires to access the river were made with rubble and covered with sand and also complained that the concessionaires are eliminating trees and reforesting only with sticks.

“I am a landscape architect and I know about plants. To plant a tree does not mean to cut a branch and stick it in the soil. A tree must have roots to absorb the nutrients for growing. It is a different thing to cut off a branch and stick it in the ground and wait for a couple of leaves to sprout on it, because it takes years for a branch to generate roots,” said Johnson.  He also remarked that the extraction of the sand negatively affects the environment of the Presa Allende because the sand is used as a filter and keeps the water from the Presa clean. Johnson also said that members of the association have spilled motor oil into the river, leaving puddles of oil in the water. “They are also trespassing on my property to get to the river,” he added. Johnson’s and other residents’ intention is to alert the general population about the damage to the Laja and invite them to help protect this natural resource that is beautiful and being destroyed by a small group. “The permit does not allow them to pollute the river, to cross through private properties or cut trees illegally, and nobody says anything. A hydrologic engineer told me that it takes between 50 and 100 years to replace that sand on the river bank,” remarked Johnson.

The Unión de Paleros and their permit

Don Blas Monzón, a member of the Unión de Paleros, commented that they began extracting sand illegally five years ago but they had problems with the Ecology Department. “I even was taken to jail twice,” he said. For that reason, Monzón and other workers started the process to get a permit from CONAGUA for extracting sand legally from the river, which was granted in September 2012. Monzón said that sometimes they cut live branches from the trees and plant them on the river banks for reforestation and that they are not eliminating live trees, just those already dead. He remarked that even if they can take the trees to use as firewood they do not do it because their houses are four kilometers away from the river and they do not have a vehicle. Ramiro Arroyo said in 2012 that the law allows those who clean up the river to take advantage of the firewood. “We are working legally and we do not need to hide from anyone. We have just had a confrontation with a neighbor, but this is our job and we are working legally,” said Monzón.

Rutilio Bolaños, another member of the Unión, said that the association is made up of 22 people from Montecillo de la Milpa and San Miguelito. In addition, Bolaños commented that besides extracting sand from the river they have the task of making slopes on the river banks where they should plant trees. He also commented that they are not trespassing on private properties because the land 15 meters from the river’s banks is federal property. They are selling a cubic meter of sand at 50 pesos, and 20 are paid to CONAGUA. Daily from eight to ten trucks of sand are sold. Their salary is 500 pesos per week. Those who want to buy sand come directly to the river.

The permit issued by CONAGUA on September 12, 2012, is provisional and lays out some guidelines for the Unión. It allows the extraction of 48,643.48 cubic meters of sand by the association along an area of 2,960 meters from San Miguelito to los Ricos and 3,480 more meters from Montecillo de la Milpa to la Cuadrilla.

The municipality must inspect the area

Agustín Madrigal, director of Salvemos el Río Laja, said that the organization does not know about the Unión de Paleros and made it clear that Salvemos el Río Laja does not have any authority concerning the river. He also said that officially the authorities do not have the obligation of consulting them before issuing a permit for exploiting the river, although he remarked that sometimes they have found out about some authorizations before they have been issued and have made some observations. Madrigal said that the process of obtaining a permit from CONAGUA begins with a petition, which must fulfill some requirements, to the SEMARNAT (Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources). If the petition meets the requirements, the SEMARNAT sends the document to the municipality so they can make some observations. Then, the municipality returns the document to the SEMARNAT, which sends it to CONAGUA for a final decision.

Madrigal said that the area is not federally protected, even though they have tried to get that designation. He remarked that Save the Laja has had some complaints about the damage to the river and for that reason they will make an inspection to take a formal complaint to the local authorities, who must take it to the state and, later, the federal government.

Read more about this topic in our next edition.

 

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

“We are concerned about the stealing of sand and the continued devastation of the Laja River in San Miguelito,” said environmentally concerned residents who live near the river. “We are not stealing sand. We have our permit and we will not be hiding from anyone,” claimed a member of the Unión de Paleros del Laja S.C. (Association of Front Men of the Laja S.C.), which has authorization granted by the CONAGUA (National Commission of Water). “The municipal authorities must be involved in this process. If they need some help from Save the Laja River we can provide it, in order to inform the federal authorities that the granting of that concession is putting the fragile river ecosystem at risk. For us, as inhabitants of the area, it is worrisome, and actions supported by the municipality must be taken to stop the extraction of sand, which although legal does not respect the clauses of the permit,” commented Agustín Madrigal, director of Salvemos el Río Laja (Let’s Save the Laja River).

According to the website of Salvemos el Río Laja, this river is a tributary of the Río Lerma. The Laja rises in the mountains in the north and west of the state of Guanajuato. The main branch of the Laja is 200 miles long and it fills the Presa Allende before flowing south through one of Mexico’s largest agricultural areas where fruits and vegetables are grown for export to the United States and Canada. Salvemos el Laja is a nonprofit organization founded in 1998 by Susan Porter with the goal of preserving the Laja watershed.

Plan for preventing flooding

In August 2012, residents from San Miguelito 2 alerted the public about the environmental damage to the river in the area near the bridge connecting Atotonilco and San Miguelito, where several trees were taken down. Although the 2009–2012 administration never discovered the total number of trees removed, a resident commented that there were between 45 and 50 that were planted between 50 and 60 years ago. Ramiro Arroyo, then director of the Civil Protection Department, commented that the trees were planted five years ago, and another resident of San Miguelito said, “The trees were planted more than 10 years ago. I helped my father plant the trees when he was still alive.” The residents also said that before the trees were removed the area “was beautiful; there was green grass where the children used to play and the women danced zumba, and also there were some ropes where the children used to swing.”

In September 2012, Arroyo told Atención that after an inspection by CONAGUA and some state and local authorities, among them the Civil Protection Department, it was determined that the Laja (in the affected area) along a 500-meter stretch was clogged with silt and an extraordinarily strong current could cause the river to overflow its banks, damaging the houses of four families and the chapel of San Miguelito. For that reason, the local government asked permission from CONAGUA to clean up the area, which was granted, allowing the local government to eliminate any obstacle in the water course, even trees within the waterway.  About two dozen trunks from the eliminated trees were replanted on the river banks. Although Arroyo commented that thanks to the type of tree and the soil nutrients the trees would grow again without problems, they remain dry and lifeless. The trees were used as firewood by the locals and the sand mixed with silt was stored by Materiales El Talego. Ramiro Arroyo said that later CONAGUA would decide what to do with the material.

The current problem

Some residents from San Miguelito and Atotonilco came to Atención to denounce the illegal extraction of sand from the Laja River, damage to the environment due to the tree cutting and even the invasion of private land by the concessionaires. According to the residents, “every day five or ten truckloads of sand are stolen from the river, in an area that is even federally protected.” “Currently, one of the residents has a permit from local authorities to extract sand and sell it for a five-year period,” noted a letter. According to Robert Johnson, who lives near the river, the elimination of trees near the bridge was just part of a master plan to create an access for the current concessionaires so they could extract the sand, because there was not an entrance to the river. Johnson commented that now the problem is also that the river is accessible day and night, and even during the night there are people taking down trees. Johnson commented that roads created by the concessionaires to access the river were made with rubble and covered with sand and also complained that the concessionaires are eliminating trees and reforesting only with sticks.

“I am a landscape architect and I know about plants. To plant a tree does not mean to cut a branch and stick it in the soil. A tree must have roots to absorb the nutrients for growing. It is a different thing to cut off a branch and stick it in the ground and wait for a couple of leaves to sprout on it, because it takes years for a branch to generate roots,” said Johnson.  He also remarked that the extraction of the sand negatively affects the environment of the Presa Allende because the sand is used as a filter and keeps the water from the Presa clean. Johnson also said that members of the association have spilled motor oil into the river, leaving puddles of oil in the water. “They are also trespassing on my property to get to the river,” he added. Johnson’s and other residents’ intention is to alert the general population about the damage to the Laja and invite them to help protect this natural resource that is beautiful and being destroyed by a small group. “The permit does not allow them to pollute the river, to cross through private properties or cut trees illegally, and nobody says anything. A hydrologic engineer told me that it takes between 50 and 100 years to replace that sand on the river bank,” remarked Johnson.

The Unión de Paleros and their permit

Don Blas Monzón, a member of the Unión de Paleros, commented that they began extracting sand illegally five years ago but they had problems with the Ecology Department. “I even was taken to jail twice,” he said. For that reason, Monzón and other workers started the process to get a permit from CONAGUA for extracting sand legally from the river, which was granted in September 2012. Monzón said that sometimes they cut live branches from the trees and plant them on the river banks for reforestation and that they are not eliminating live trees, just those already dead. He remarked that even if they can take the trees to use as firewood they do not do it because their houses are four kilometers away from the river and they do not have a vehicle. Ramiro Arroyo said in 2012 that the law allows those who clean up the river to take advantage of the firewood. “We are working legally and we do not need to hide from anyone. We have just had a confrontation with a neighbor, but this is our job and we are working legally,” said Monzón.

Rutilio Bolaños, another member of the Unión, said that the association is made up of 22 people from Montecillo de la Milpa and San Miguelito. In addition, Bolaños commented that besides extracting sand from the river they have the task of making slopes on the river banks where they should plant trees. He also commented that they are not trespassing on private properties because the land 15 meters from the river’s banks is federal property. They are selling a cubic meter of sand at 50 pesos, and 20 are paid to CONAGUA. Daily from eight to ten trucks of sand are sold. Their salary is 500 pesos per week. Those who want to buy sand come directly to the river.

The permit issued by CONAGUA on September 12, 2012, is provisional and lays out some guidelines for the Unión. It allows the extraction of 48,643.48 cubic meters of sand by the association along an area of 2,960 meters from San Miguelito to los Ricos and 3,480 more meters from Montecillo de la Milpa to la Cuadrilla.

The municipality must inspect the area

Agustín Madrigal, director of Salvemos el Río Laja, said that the organization does not know about the Unión de Paleros and made it clear that Salvemos el Río Laja does not have any authority concerning the river. He also said that officially the authorities do not have the obligation of consulting them before issuing a permit for exploiting the river, although he remarked that sometimes they have found out about some authorizations before they have been issued and have made some observations. Madrigal said that the process of obtaining a permit from CONAGUA begins with a petition, which must fulfill some requirements, to the SEMARNAT (Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources). If the petition meets the requirements, the SEMARNAT sends the document to the municipality so they can make some observations. Then, the municipality returns the document to the SEMARNAT, which sends it to CONAGUA for a final decision.

Madrigal said that the area is not federally protected, even though they have tried to get that designation. He remarked that Save the Laja has had some complaints about the damage to the river and for that reason they will make an inspection to take a formal complaint to the local authorities, who must take it to the state and, later, the federal government.

Read more about this topic in our next edition.

 

 

Comments are closed

 photo RSMAtnWebAdRed13.jpg
 photo RSMAtnWebAdRed13.jpg  photo RSMAtnWebAdRed13.jpg

Photo Gallery

Log in | Designed by Gabfire themes All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove