The Limarí River Basin covers almost the entire Limarí Province and belongs to the Coquimbo Region (IV. Región, El Norte Chico). Until the mid-1990s, the IVth Region of Coquimbo and the Limarí River Basin belonged to the poorest areas of Chile with 30% of the population living below the poverty line (Leon & Garay, 2005). The construction of an interconnected three reservoir system, initiated back in the 1920s and completed in 1967 (MOP, 1978) had the aim to increase the agricultural output and to strengthen the regional economy. Since the construction of the Paloma system reservoir with a storage capacity of 1,000 hm³ (INIA, 2009), the cultivated area has increased significantly and improved the incomes of the local population. 48% of the agricultural surface in the whole Coquimbo region is cultivated in the Limarí Valley and irrigated agriculture is the foremost employment opportunity (Soto, 2000).
Nowadays, the Limarí river basin is an intensively used agricultural zone with heterogeneous crop mix of vegetable, grain, wheat, cereals and meat. Citrus fruits, avocados and table grapes represent 34% of the cultivated area, annual crops 24.5 % and wine 21.5 % (Parga et al., 2005). The climatic conditions are especially favorable for the cultivation of mandarins and the Limarí Valley contributes with 70% to the national production of mandarins (INIA, 2009). High value wine grapes, table grapes, avocado or lemons that profit from the off-season in the northern hemisphere are exported to the U.S.A., the European Union, and Asia. Over 70% of the regional export is produced in the Limari-Basin (Oyarzún, 2010). The types of agriculture regimes range from medium-sized farms to large-scale multinational private holdings. Larger producers are mainly oriented on irrigated crop production for the international market.
The adoption of the neo-liberal economic model in Chile in the early 1980’s has led to major changes in the land and water property rights in the country. During the economic liberalization the ‘National Water Code’ has been established. The Water Code of 1981 determines that water is a national resource for private use and allows private transferable property rights (Bauer, 1997). Before implementing the Code, water resources were state owned. Water management in this region is managed by the Water User Associations, whose members are famers of the region. The monitoring boards (Juntas de Vigilancia) are responsible for the control of the natural river courses, while the associations take the responsibility of the canals. The organizations manage the distribution and the infrastructure of water.
As socio-economic development in the Limarí area is highly connected to irrigation water, changes in the flow regimes affect the agricultural productivity. Less runoff provides less water for irrigation. Recently, the area has been subject to severe droughts (León, 2005). The precipitation has decreased over the last years, so that long-term irrigation policies had high impact on the society. Therefore, water availability is the most important concern and it is in Chile´s interest to develop strategies to improve the efficient use.
The following map shows the study region illustrating topography, hydrology with reservoirs, human settlements, agricultural area and administrative boundaries:
References and further reading:
Bauer, C. (1997) Bringing Water Markets Down to Earth: The Political Economy of Water Rights in Chile, 1976-95, World Development, 25(5), 639-656.
INIA (2009) Tierra adentro, frutales y viñas, Valle del Limarí, un aporte a la fruticultura chilena, http://www.inia.cl/link.cgi/; accessed: 12.03.2012.
León, A., Montana, E., Fuster, R. (2002) Riego y pobreza rural: dos estudios de caso en la región semiárida de Chile y Argentina: la comparación de dos cuencas hidrográficas en Chile y Argentina, Eval. Usos del Agua en Tierras Secas de Iberoamérica 12, 65–92.
León, A., Garay-Flühmann, R. (2005) Public policy as a means to increase human security in agriculture in a drought-prone area of northern Chile, Department of Environmental Sciences and Renewable Natural Resources, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, University of Chile, Human Security and Climate Change, An International Workshop, Holmen Fjord Hotel, Asker, near Oslo, 22–23 June 2005.
MOP (Ministerio de Obras Públicas) (1978) Annual Reports 1887/1977 1888/1978, Santiago,Chile.
Oyarzún, R. (2010) Estudio de caso: Cuenca del Limarí, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, Compilación Resumida de Antecedentes, Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Aridas- Universidad de la Serena (CEAZA-ULS).
Parga, F., León, A., Vargas, X., Fuster, R. (2005) El índice de pobreza hídrica aplicado a la cuenca del Río Limarí en Chile semiárido, volumen XI; El Agua en Iberoamérica en 2005, http://www.cricyt.edu.ar/ladyot/publicaciones/cyted_libro_XII/articulos/093.pdf, accessed: 15.08.2011.
Soto, G. (2000) Use of an environmental indicators based methodology for the evaluation of desertification on the Province of Limarí, Region IV. BS Thesis, Faculty of Forestry, University of Chile.
Young, G., Zavala, H., Wandel, J., Smit, B., Salas, S., Jimenez, E., Fiebig, E., Espinoza, R., Diaz, H., Cepeda, J. (2010) Vulnerability and adaptation in a dryland community of the Elqui Valley, Chile, Climatic Change (2010) 98:245–276, DOI 10.1007/s10584-009-9665-4.