Las Cachinches Stream, “a Shameful Place”
By Jesús Aguado
Rats, snakes, mosquitoes, trash, and drug addicts hide and emerge from the stream that goes from the Obraje to las Cuevitas neighborhood.
Some neighbors try their best to keep the place clean; others regularly throw trash into the stream. Some others take advantage of the illegality and lack of surveillance in the area by constructing walls or gardens that extend to the middle of the stream on the federal property.
It was 1:30am on October 3, 1998, when the emergency services started warning the population living on the banks of the arroyo (stream) that they had to evacuate immediately. Thousands of cubic meters of water were approaching, dragging everything along the way. The dam (made by locals) of the community of Támbula had cracked and could not hold the water anymore.
It was the day of the festivities to honor St. Michael the Archangel. According to Atención records, the man responsible for the Civil Protection Department at that time, Samuel Mercadillo, stated that there were 12 people injured—two of them by electric shock. The Red Cross reported a dead man and later a woman from San Miguel Viejo, who was dragged and killed by the current when she tried to pull a stove from the stream.
Currently, people living on the edges of the arroyo just remember how the water took away their furniture or ruined it—at least the furniture from the first story of the house—because the water was 10 centimeters under the second story, according to señora Santiaga Cerritos. Then the Salón el Álamo was set up as a shelter, and at least 200 people stayed there for four days.
The first recorded flood, which caused damage on Calzada de la Luz, Avenida Guadalupe, and Calzada de la Estación in the lower part of the city, was in 1894. Flooding repeated in 1933 and 1973. The worst flood was in 1998, causing 3 deaths and 10 injuries. In February 2010, a heavy rain that lasted 72 hours threatened to cause another flood. Students from the schools near the arroyo were evacuated as well as vendors on San Juan de Dios. Fortunately, the rain stopped and no flooding occurred.
Édgar Bautista, head of the Urban Development Department, told Atención that the stream, which starts in el Obraje and ends at the Presa Allende, had not been improved for about a decade, when large rocks were placed in the channel to slow the flow of water. The stream was also widened to avoid overflows. The current Risk Atlas suggests that dikes need to be constructed to prevent disasters in the future.
There were no other interventions with the stream in 400 years until 2000. After the flooding, widening of the arroyo, and placement of some rocks on the sides, retaining walls were built in some areas.
The truth, said the neighbors from colonia Guadalupe, is that the place now needs to be not just an ecologic park—which has been proposed—but it also needs to be a safe place. Although it has been cleaned at times, the weeds grow fast, and criminals hide there after they steal from the neighborhood and are running away from the police.
Although in the Atención files there is a cleaning reported in August 2011, other residents, living next to the Avenida Independencia, noted that the local administration has never organized a cleaning campaign in that area. The residents try to keep it clean, but at night many people throw bags full of trash there.
In the Cuevitas area, some neighbors who walked over the stream area with Atención personnel described the space as “a shame.” They said that some requests have been filed on Citizens’ Tuesday to get the space cleaned out, but they have not had an answer yet. “We want our authorities to do something,” one of the neighbors stated.
Another woman pointed out several irregularities to Atención. As we walked, she indicated a house where a fence made of reeds can be seen. “They use it as a storage place,” she said, “and later they will construct something.” She pointed out another house, “Do you see that wall in the middle of the stream?” she asked. The wall of the house she pointed to is right in the middle of the stream. A different house has a garden on the back patio, and some others have placed cyclone wire to mark the boundary of a property that belongs to the federation.
“If you go farther,” said another woman, “you will find some houses made of cardboard under the reeds. There are some mattresses, and they are the refuge for criminals and drug addicts,” she added.
In the area that goes from the Obraje to the calle Miguel Prado in colonia Guadalupe, Luz María Núñez Flores, and later Mauricio Trejo, sought to construct an ecologic park. The project was last presented in March 2014 during the administration of Mauricio Trejo. The perspective, they said, was touristic, and it met the Development Goals of the Millennium, whose priorities are security, health, and education. The idea was to turn the arroyo into a patio-garden in the city, a tourism corridor; “in other words, a park that would generate a new ecosystem as important as Parque Juárez,” it was said at that time. The work would connect the neighborhoods and benefit the primary, secondary, and preparatory schools near the area.
The arroyo must be crossed by all those who attend the CBTis (Industrial and Services Technological High School Center) or who cross from other neighborhoods to Centro through the lower pass of the channel. For that reason, a bridge that was destroyed during the 1998 flood was to be reconstructed on calle Indio Triste to connect Mexiquito and Guadalupe.
The idea was to eliminate, by means of the artificial river, the border between Centro and other neighborhoods and stop the arroyo from being a trash dump and conduit for raw sewage. “It will be an ecotourism park, full of surprises and recreation, featuring plazas, walkways, and bicycle paths,” said the authorities during the presentation of the project. The new image of the area would allow those who own properties facing the arroyo to open their own businesses in the area, and they could help maintain the area, too. That was how the area would be a place not for criminals or indigents, but for the general public. Both Nuñez’s and Trejo’s administrations ended, and nothing happened.
A source of information (who requested to remain anonymous) told Atención that the project was already approved by Governor Márquez; however, it was not possible to go forward due to the documents required from the National Commission of Water, the Secretariat of Environment and National Resources, and the SEDATU. “And also, you know the bureaucracy to get the financial resources,” said the source.
In the area of Cuevitas, said the same Atención source, “nothing could/can be done.” This is for several reasons: first, during the administration of Óscar Arroyo (2000–2003), accounts of predial (property taxes) were authorized even though the houses were invading the stream. The projects in the area of Cuevitas were never viable because, due to problems that the project could cause to the houses, the local government had to pay compensations, “and there is no money for it.” The slaughterhouse was then still operating and polluting the zone.
Two weeks ago during the closing of the slaughterhouse that operated for 43 years in a row, Governor Miguel Márquez announced 18.5 million pesos more for the third phase of the Impulso Cuevitas Community Center. But that was not all. Márquez also said that the state government would invest 11 million more pesos for the construction of an ecologic corridor on Las Cachinches stream.
Although he did not show documents or give precise information, Felipe Tapia Campos, director of the Public Works Department, commented that the ecological corridor would go from the Guanajuato bridge to the Bicentenario bridge in its final phase. It would have a cost of 70 million pesos.
For the first stage, the 11 million pesos will be for building some retaining walls, plazas, corridors, lighting and restoration of the facades facing the stream. The State Finance Department, according to Tapia, can give the money to the state in one month. Then it would take 40 days for tendering the work, so the changes to the stream could begin before the end of this year.
The project is susceptible to flooding
Alan Álvarez Flores has been the heading the Civil Protection Department for the last two months. He said that he is not familiar with this project. He assured that San Miguel could not have a flood like that in 1998 because the hand-built dam of Támbula has not been holding water since that year.
Álvarez added that to construct the park in the stream, the project should have an account of the historic maximum levels of rain because “from what we have seen, there are some houses invading the stream and vice versa, but that is a topic that needs to be solved by the National Commission of Water.” The houses need to be 20 meters away from the center point of the river. Álvarez used as an example the stream—road—of León, the Malecón del Río, which was not supposed to flood, and it did.
The State Contingency Plan for Rainy Season, published online, dates from 2013 and it states that in an inspection conducted at the Cachinches stream, several objects were found in the stream bed that do not allow the water to flow freely.
Interview with CONAGUA
To have more precise information, Atención requested an interview with the delegate from the National Commission of Water—Humberto Navarro de Alba—which will be granted in the next days.