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Story Publication logo November 23, 2021

The Disappearance of Water From the Urucuia Aquifer, the Source of the São Francisco, Intrigues Scientists


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For decades, the Cerrado’s dry mesas have been deforested and converted into pool-table-flat fields...

Eldo Moreira Barreto, a Geraizeiro farmer, leans on a buriti tree on the edge of the Pichico stream, in Brejo Verde, west of Bahia. Image by Dado Galdieri/Hilaea Media. 2021

To read this report in full, which is written in Portuguese on the Folha de S.Paulo website, click here.

Clouds are blotting out the sun and pouring down rain for the first time in six months in western Bahia in northeastern Brazil. Traditional Geraizeiro farmers who live in the valleys between the region’s table lands are welcoming the showers, which will water their plots of manioc, beans and corn.  Still, a lot of them are uneasy. Many of the springs that irrigate their land during the dry season have been waning for years. Farmers who counted on this water now grow less food.

Since the 1990s, one-quarter of the Cerrado forest of western Bahia’s plateau has been cleared and transformed into a sea of corn, soy and cotton. A growing number of these big farms irrigate their crops, allowing them to operate year round and produce more. They get their water out of the Urucuia aquifer that sits below the plateau and the rivers that cross it. Geraizeiros, who tend land too steep for the kind of mechanized farming practiced on the flat plateau, have long contended that large-scale irrigation is robbing water from springs in the valleys. But hardly anyone paid attention.

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Recently, the smallholders have gained new allies. Water experts have proven that the Urucuia aquifer is dropping and that western Bahia’s rivers are waning. Some scientists say these changes could be weakening the springs, though nobody has investigated why they are failing. The experts don’t yet agree on who, or what, is most to blame for the dwindling water, though they all say that the big farms are at least partly responsible.


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Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change

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