The millenarian Cauca River, which crosses Colombia from South to North irrigating the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Risaralda, Caldas, Antioquia, Sucre and Bolívar, was known by ancestral indigenous communities as Bredunco. Later on, it was renamed Cauca River to commemorate the indigenous cacique Cauca who inhabited these lands.
This majestic river is the second most important of Colombia. It occupies 5% of the national territory and it is vital for the departments of Valle del Cauca, Caldas and Antioquia. It starts at the Buey Lagoon in the Colombian Massif, where the rivers Margadalena and Caquetá also begin. In its valley, a few kilometers away from its source, the city of Popayan was founded. Some kilometers down Popayan, in the municipalities of Buenos Aires and Suárez,
the river was dammed to give birth to the massive hydropower dam, Salvajina, which created a reservoir that extends for 31 kilometers and was designed to generate 270 megawatts. It is known as La Salvajada – the savagery – by the affected communities due to the brutal impacts and conflicts it has engendered since its construction in the 1980s, such as massive displacements of people in the area. In the late 1990s, the affected communities in the area reassembled, in order to prevent new displacements and the loss of their livelihoods, managing to stop a new development project (Project DROES), which attempted to divert the Ovejas River towards the Salvajina dam as a means to enhance its hydroelectric power generation capacity. The Project DROES was about to deprive ancestral communities from their water supply and traditional activities linked to it.
The Cauca River enters the department of Antioquia through the North-East and flows through the municipalities of Caramanta, Valparaiso, La Pintada, Támesis, Fredonia, Jericó, Tarso, Venecia, Concordia, Titiribí and Betulia. In the West part of the department the river meets the municipalities of Armenia, Ebéjico, Anzá, Soparán, Santa Fé de Antioquia, Olaya, Buriticá, Liborina, Sabanalarga and Peque, where it becomes a beautiful canyon which extends throughout the municipalities of Toledo, Briceño, Ituango and Valdivia located in the north part of the department. Then the river flows down the Bajo Cauca Antioqueño crossing the municipalities of Tarazá, Cáceres, Caucasia and Nechí. 30 municipalities are part of the Cauca River’s watershed. Additionally, the water sources of nearby municipalities flow into this river. For instance, the Medellín River, which in some areas is named Porce and Nechí, also belong to the Cauca’s watershed or Patrón Mono as the Cauca River is known by artisan miners in Antioquia. Finally, the river flows through the Down Cauca subregion, crossing the municipalities of Caucasia in Antioquia, San Jacinto del Cauca in the department of Bolívar, Guarandá in the department of Sucre and Achí and Magangue in Bolivar.
Unfortunately, this great river is under many threats in Antioquia due to projects such as the Cañafisto dam, Hidroespiritusanto and Hidroituango. The latter was granted environmental clearance in 2009, which enabled the EPM and the Regional Government of Antioquia to begin streaming diversions in order to build a 79 kilometers reservoir and a hydropower dam aimed at producing 2.400 megawatts. The project’s environmental license has been amended 23 times so far, in order to account for impacted areas that were larger than anticipated, additional impact categories, and the growth of affected population. Hidroituango has caused massive human rights violations to a population, which has already been victim of the internal arm conflict. In 12 of the impacted municipalities, 62 massacres have taken place in the last decades; the last one was commited in 2015. Selective killings have also threatened the population of this region for decades.
The Cauca river flows through 1350 kilometers. The regions and municipalities located in its riverbed own their economic prosperity and flourishing to the river. However, this prosperity is also responsible for huge historic, environmental and cultural debts which ought to be repaired. The river has been polluted by cities such as Popayán, Cali and Medellín, as well as by industrial complexes from sectors such as concrete and cement, mining – in Marmato, Buriticá and other municipalities located on the Nechi Riverbed in Antioquia – and sugar – in the department of Valle del Cauca. The latter is responsible not only for pouring agro-chemical supplies into the river, but also for the disappearance of the Bolo River, and important tributary of the Cauca River. Additionally, the pollution caused by more than 10 million people living in the region who pour leaches, residual water and garbage to the river. Together, this has turned the Cauca into one of the most polluted rivers in Colombia. Pollution, dams, the extinction of animals and the destruction of native dry forest ought to be stop and repaired immediately.
THE CAUCA RIVER EMBRACES US, WHILE EPM DESPLACES US