Reducing the Risk of Water Pollution in Vulnerable Coastal Communities of Cartagena, Colombia: Responding to Climate Change
The coastal area of Cartagena, an important tourist destination in Colombia, is home to several poor communities that rely on artisanal fishing (small-scale, traditional fishing techniques) and local tourism. This research project will generate adaptation tools to help local communities respond to climate change threats and better manage their water resources. Concerns for livelihoods that depend on water The Dique canal diverts some of the flow from the Magdalena River, one of the largest rivers in the country, and opens into an estuary where many poor communities are located. It carries sediments collected upstream and contaminants such as agrochemicals, sewage, and industrial and untreated urban waste. The concentration of contaminants in the estuary varies depending on the volume of water in the canal. Chemical residues peak in during the dry season that can last four to five months. When flooding takes place, organic waste from cities and sewage plants finds its way into the estuary and has impacts on local community health, fish health, and the health of corals upon which fish rely. Pollutants in the estuary are also detrimental to local tourism, an important source of income for these communities. Insight into future climate-related challenges Climate models are predicting increases in the frequency and severity of drought and intense rainfall for the region. As a result, the livelihoods of local communities will be threatened even further. Using hydrological and sedimentological modelling, the project team will generate maps of hotspots showing the level of contaminant concentration at different times of the year. Researchers will also estimate how drought and extreme rainfall will affect the level and distribution of sediments and contaminants in the estuary. Outcomes to improve water quality The team will recommend ways to minimize exposure to contaminants and to discourage local fish consumption when pollutant levels are high. Researchers will also conduct an economic analysis of the impact of climate extremes on fishing and tourism. The results will inform the design of a community strategy to adapt to these events and minimize potential impacts. They will also help community organizations identify mechanisms for improving access to potable water will prepare a regional strategy for integrated water management.