From the top of the Andes, through vast tropical ecosystems and a complex system of floodplain, the Magdalena River is the lifeblood for more than 30 million people settled in the Basin. What can the Magdalena teach us about life on Puget Sound?
Bob Carey, director of Strategic Partnerships for the Washington chapter, spent two months in Bogota, Colombia, helping develop strategies for the Conservancy’s Magdalena River project.
“The Magdalena is an incredible river basin and it’s home to so many of South America’s idyllic features,” Bob says. “It has high Andean mountains, rainforests, tropical dry forests, enormous wetlands, mangrove swamps and coral reefs. It’s like a whole continent crammed into a single watershed; incredibly beautiful and incredibly diverse.”
Colombia’s development and well-being is largely tied to the Magdalena River, just as much of Washington’s economy and quality of life is tied to Puget Sound. And in both places, the Conservancy is focused on preserving and enhancing the ability of nature to provide food, clean water and a better life.
But there are differences. The Magdalena faces much greater threats than most rivers in the states. Colombia has a rapidly growing economy, centered in the Magdalena basin, and it is much more dependent on exploiting its natural resource base to fuel its development. Whereas the development of new dams, levees and other grey infrastructure is largely a thing of the past in Puget Sound, a grey infrastructure boon in the Magdalena could radically change the system. There is a limited time to act.
Second, while we are clearly dependent on rivers and, more generally, nature in Puget Sound, the utter dependence of communities and the economy on the Magdalena is much more apparent, Bob says.
“When I visited fishing communities in the Magdalena delta I was struck by how dependent people are on the river – they bathe in it, they get their drinking water from it, they get their protein (fish) from it, and it waters their rice fields. Nature conservation is not a luxury, it’s an imperative.”
In both the Magdalena River basin and in Puget Sound, The Nature Conservancy is working with communities to use natural defenses—wetlands, marshes, forests—to reduce the risk of natural disasters like flooding and enable nature and people to thrive.
Read a blog series and view videos about the Magdalena River and its basin.