“If this is a desert, what are all these people doing here?”
– Reyner Banham
Aquastructura wants to analyze the impact of desalination process in Atacama Desert, in the North of Chile. Nowadays a large amount of desalination plants is built to supply water for copper extraction activity, as a possible solution to overcome fresh water shortage in the region. Large aqueducts are assembled to convey water from desalination plants near the sea to mine areas, which are even 4000 meters high, at a distance that reaches 190 kilometres. All these infrastructures are creating a new inverse artificial hydrography, in an environment which has a very limited water presence. Drought periods are very frequent in the region indeed, and the fighting for water between mine companies and farmers is going to deplete the underground water resources at a faster rate.
These new water infrastructures will have an impact on landscape as Romans’ aqueducts had and still have, although in a different way. While Romans’ aqueducts appear in the landscape due to their architectural form, mines’ aqueducts are concealed underground, but their presence will be showed by the effects of water they carried into a desert landscape. This contrast between dry and wet environment is already visible along Copiapó and Loa river, where water allows cultivation and growing of vegetation in the regions of Antofagasta and Copiapó. On the contrary of Romans’ aqueducts which were used for centuries, mines infrastructures become obsolete in a very short period since they are linked with extraction activity which usually lasts no more than 20 years. After that all the infrastructures are usually left into the desert almost untouched, creating a new landscape of giants wastes.
In the history of Atacama that already happened when towns and railways were built during Chilean silver rush in eighteenth century and then they were abandoned at the beginning of twentieth century. This is going to occur again when copper mines will run out of minerals. At the same time, their desalination plants will become useless too. Aquastructura wants to think a possible reuse of desalination plants after mines closure because they are a key element to fight drought, as Australia and Israel show recently.
Copiapó valley is the last large cultivated area in the North of Chile. In the last few years drought and mining water usage have put in danger agriculture. For that reason new wells had to be dug to extract underground water. A reuse of desalination plants could solve water problem for this area, providing irrigation and potable water for inhabitants. In that way a new inverse water cycle is developed, from the sea going up to the interior of Copiapó valley. The center of that cycle is a new water park, built where there are already different types of water infrastructures: a mine aqueduct pumping station and from Copiapó sewage treatment plant. This park will collect, storage and distribute desalinate and treat water, providing also a recreation area into a new water landscape. A way to experience and show the existence of water in the Atacama Desert.