Recreation on the turbid waters of the Presa Allende
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Tons of fish reproduce and grow in the unsettled water of the Presa Allende—the second largest reservoir in the state—and later are caught and sold by more than 30 fishermen. At the same time, sanmiguelenses discharge 120 liters of waste water per second, which end up in the Allende dam. This leads people to think that the water is “untouchable” because of pollution and that the fish are not fit for human consumption. The presa, however, has its champions, and some talked to us about the quality of the water and the activities that take place in the reservoir.
Casting their nets
Monday through Friday at 5am Don Jorge Vargas and his helper leave the community of Flores de Begoña to board their hand-built wooden boat and traverse two kilometers of the presa toward the community of Don Juan. Once near the community, they pull in their 100-meter net that they cast the day before to catch charales (chirostoma, a fish of 6 to 12 centimeters long), which are later dried and sold to a client from Yuriria, Guanjuato.
It was around 2pm when this fisherman finished taking out his nets, which he calls them tumbos. His helper paddled the boat to the shores of the dam, and the work of harvesting their catch began. They laid out a 50-square-meter canvas and one fisherman took his place across from the other on either side of the canvas, and they pulled the net—divided into 10-meter sections—from the wooden boat and started shaking it. The nearly dead fish fell out onto the canvas. The fishermen shook the net for almost one hour, until the last charal fell. When they finished, don Jorge explained that this is a low season for fishing this kind of fish, because they get only 25 kilos, but during the rainy season they can get more than 400 kilos in one day. “There are colleagues who use a trawler, and they can get more than a ton of all kinds of fish a day, but it all depends on the season” he said. Vargas has 20 years’ experience fishing and has seen all sorts of fish come out of the presa. The biggest that the fishermen have caught was 1.5 meters long and weighed more than 15 kilos. Vargas said that he does not know where those fish are sold. “Some say that they are sold in Wal-Mart, but the truth is that we do not know,” he remarked. What he is certain about is that the fish are healthy and fit for human consumption, because his family and residents of the nearby communities eat the finish and no one has become illt.
Vargas said that there is an association made up of 40 fishermen who renew their licenses granted by the SAGARPA (Secretariat of Agriculture Stockbreeding, Rural Development, Fishing and Food) every three years. He said that they pay a tax for the use of the boats in Patzcuaro, Michoacán, where the captain lives.
Dr. Martín Milán López, head of the Sanitation Jurisdiction in San Miguel de Allende, said that they do not have information on where this fish is sold. He also remarked that they have not had any reports of diseases caused by the consumption of the product of the presa, but if there were one they would conduct studies immediately.
Wastewater treatment plant
Engineer Denia Guadalupe González gave me a guided tour of the wastewater treatment plant. Although it is evident that some crops near San Miguel Viejo are irrigated with untreated water, González assured me that 100 percent of the water is treated in the plant at a cost of 2.5 pesos per cubic meter—which she said is less than the average cost of five pesos. The plant is located in the lower part of Villa de los Frailes, and the water collector is located one kilometer away from there on the Arroyo de las Cachinches, where, according to González, they have found all kind of junk such as mattresses, toilets and even dead dogs. The water draws all kinds of trash to the treatment plant, and 120 liters of water per second arrive at the plant and pass through several filters to eliminate all the solid remains. Every month the plant processes more than 15 tons of trash along with silt, which later are taken to the landfill.
After the solids have been removed from the water, the liquid is dumped into a big tank where they add Vorticella protozoans, which consume all the remaining solid organic waste. These microorganisms are very sensitive, said the director of the plant, and they die easily when subjected to oils, paints and solvents people pour down the drain. After this process, the water passes to a holding area and chlorine is added. After 16 hours, the water is piped to the presa.
The director said that in San Miguel there are 10 plants for treating water, but not all of them are working. Some hotels, she said, such as Rosewood, have their own plants and recycle their water, as does Mega Comercial. The director stated that SAPASMA (System of Potable Water and Drainage of San Miguel de Allende) will start conducting investigations to identify from where the most polluted water comes, and the fines—which would be applied in the future—could include cancelling water service to a house, workshop or store.
The water needs more friends
Michael Lambert, who arrived in San Miguel in 2004, loves sailing, rowing and
kayaking, among other water-related activities, and the first thing he did was look for a body of water. He found the Presa Allende, and when he looked at the water he thought, “This water needs help,” although he did not know that the water was dark due to the components in the soil.
Lambert gathered a group of people interested in environmental issues, especially those pertaining to water, and formed Amigos de la Presa, an organization that works to create consciousness about the importance of taking care of surface water. This nonprofit organization is different from many others because of its particular way of approaching people regarding water problems. They raise consciousness by promoting recreational activities such as kayaking, sailing, boating, hiking and bicycling. “We approach people to let them know about this beautiful resource that we have just a couple miles away from the historic center. People think that the presa is polluted and it is not safe, but it is just a myth,” said Lambert. He said some areas are cleaner than others but, in general the water is safe for human contact. He said that there are big projects coming soon.
If you are interested in volunteering with Amigos de la Presa, making a donation or buying a kayak, go to http://www.amigosdelapresa.org/ more information.
Swimming is not safe
There have been several suicides and drownings in the presa, and the latest drowning occurred two weeks ago. A group of friends arrived at the dam at 9am and started drinking alcoholic beverages. At 2pm, one of the members decided to go swimming, but suddenly his friends could not see him anymore. The victim was found an hour and a half later by the Team of Rescue in Turbid Waters of San Miguel.
Felipe Cohen, director of the Civil Protection Department, said that his department cannot keep people out of the presa, but they did post warning signs that were destroyed by vandals. The director also commented that the water is turbid with currents, and whirlpools that can drag people to their death.