Peru bores through Andes to water desert after century of dreams

Thu Apr 4, 2013 2:09pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Mitra Taj

OLMOS, Peru (Reuters) - Peru's Olmos Valley might be a desert now, with rare rains and rivers that trickle to life for just a few months a year, but a radical engineering solution for water scarcity could soon create an agricultural bonanza here.

Fresh water that now tumbles down the eastern flank of the Andes mountains to the Amazon basin and eventually the Atlantic Ocean will instead move west through the mountains to irrigate this patch of desert on Peru's coast. It will then drain into the Pacific Ocean.

The Herculean project to reverse the flow of water and realize a century-old dream is in many ways the most important water work ever in Peru. It could serve as a blueprint for the kind of construction projects needed to tackle worsening water scarcity.

Call it extreme engineering in the age of global warming.

"All of this will be green," said engineer Giovanni Palacios, looking out over miles of brown shrubbery at a construction site he oversees for the Brazilian firm Odebrecht.

Palacios is the director of the Olmos Irrigation Project, an ambitious and - until it starts in 2014 - unproven vision with a $500 million price tag.

It has included drilling a 12-mile tunnel through the formidable Andes to capture abundant water flows on the other side. That feat required a drill 1,000 feet long.

It aims to fix Peru's most emblematic water problem. Rainfall on the coast averages six inches (150 mm) per year and the project is coming online as Peru's tropical glaciers, a source of fresh water for millions, melt away with rising global temperatures.   Continued...

Irrigation water is seen near passionfruit crops after a rare rain in the outskirts of Olmos in Peru's northwestern region of Lambayeque, in this March 14, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Files