The Water Supply in Santa Marta: An Update

A new promise for clean drinking water in the city of Santa Marta was declared in August 2014 by then-mayor Carlos Caicedo. Caicedo contemplated the idea of using the Guachaca River as the primary source of water for the city and the adjacent municipalities. The idea was axed in December of that year by the Santos government, which suggested turning the Magdalena River into a “regional aqueduct” based on a study by the University of the Andes.

In an interview with a national news channel, lawyer and journalist Alejandro Arias noted that a framework of manipulation of local politicians was hidden behind the project. On February 16, 2016, Housing Minister Vargas Lleras announced the signing of a public-private partnership. Then, against all the odds, “they set us up in another illusion, to return to what has always been the solution: to bring the water from the Guachaca rivers. Minister (Jonathan) Malagón wrote what should be the quick solutions with which to solve 60% or 70% of the water crisis in the city,” says Arias.

Since 2014, the Mayors of Santa Marta have drawn roadmaps with different solutions to end the problem of the lack of drinking water in Santa Marta. Today, however, none of the projects have seen the light.

Rafael Martínez, former campaign manager of former mayor Caicedo in the 2015 elections, approved an agreement to finance the works through future terms of $892 billion in 2018 together with the District Council. During that year, the Metroagua company was embroiled in corruption scandals of its subsidiary in Spain, Canal de Isabel II. Hence, the contract that since 1989 gave it the power to provide the services of aqueduct and sewerage in the District was suspended.

At the same time, the mayor envisaged an alternative solution to the construction of a desalination plant on a seven-hectare lot near the airport. Ignoring his political fate in the days to come, Martinez drew roadmaps for the launch of the megastructures he had known on his journey through Tel Aviv, Israel’s capital. In the Middle Eastern country, he witnessed a large plan where “one produces more than twice what Santa Marta needs,” he expressed in an interview with a local newspaper.

Andrés Rugeles, the person who would go to the mayor’s office on behalf of President Ivan Duque, cast the issue of water into the pit of oblivion. Martínez had been suspended on March 21, 2019, for an investigation undertaken by the Office of the Attorney General for the alleged irregularities detected in the hiring of construction works and redevelopment of five health posts for the city, which were demolished and were not lifted or completed in their entirety during the time agreed to enter into operation.

Again Minister Malagón released a public statement announcing the plan that would connect the Guachaca River with the city. The goal was to bring 800 liters of water per second from the river’s tributary. The corporation decided to revoke this agreement, essentially ending the project.

In the face of the inconsistency of the water service, some neighborhoods of Santa Marta have chosen to connect motor pumps to the pipes to fill tanks and secure the liquid for days.

After five months in office, current Governor Carlos Caicedo has repeatedly pointed out that access to safe drinking water is a central theme for the development of the District of Santa Marta. He emphasized that this problem requires the joint support of the administration of Mayor Virna Johnson and the National Government.

The current plans involve the transport of water by pipes from the Magdalena River to desalination plants to purify the seawater. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the department simply hope that a solution will materialize as soon as possible.

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