Floods, Riparian Destruction, and Climate Change (oh my!)

Written by Robin Tress

This morning I talked to a reporter who is staying in our hostel, Luis Roberto Castrillon Cue. His hometown is Villabiermos, Tabasco, which means “beautiful village”. He tells me this is a misnomer because “it is not a village, and it´s not very beautiful anymore”. Villabiermos is built upon a system of underground lakes and is surrounded by a river. In the last few decades large companies have set up shop right on one side of the river – businesses like WalMart, Costco, and a multi-plex movie theatre. On the other side of the river are several housing complexes, which are built very close to the bank of the river. This poses two problems: development next to a river bed destroys the riparian buffer zone, and the international expansion of American corporations is a disaster. Good thing I´m only going to talk about one of those issues today, otherwise this would be the longest blog post of all time.

The combination of destroyed riparian zones and the increased frequency and severity of storms due to climate change have left Villabiermos in a very vulnerable position. In 1999, there was a flood that Luis claims was about knee deep. Not life-threatening, but not exactly something you look forward to when you wake up in the morning. In 2007 there was another flood that was up to 10 feet deep. Luis´s aunt had to be rescued from the roof of her house because the water came so high so quickly. Just earlier this year, there was another flood – this one did not come on as suddenly and was not so deep, but Luis says that water covered a larger area of land than any of the previous floods.

These floods were caused by unprecedented amounts of rain to the Tabasco region. The downpour experienced at the time of these floods was like nothing the residents had ever seen. This is enough to cause serious problems, but the building developments on riparian buffer zones did not help the situation. Paving over these areas removes the environment´s ability to absorb and slow the flow of water, exacerbating the flooding that was already being experienced. The riparian buffer´s failure to absorb water resulted in the 2007 flood lasting for days, permanently damaging homes and businesses near the river bank.

The issue of river bed and coastal development is no stranger to other Mexican Cities. Any property on the beaches of Cancun is considered ´a bad investment´ because everyone knows how seriously affected they are by storm damage and erosion. This is because most of the resorts and other coastal developments in Cancun are built right on top to sand dunes, which completely removes any protection that the dunes offer.

Floods and unanticipated storm action is not unique to Mexico. It is seen in Canada, the US, Pacific islands, and many other regions of the globe. Events like this are not abstract or irrelevant– they´re human issues, affecting real people, all the time.

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