High in the clouds of the Andean páramos

I found this post saved as a draft from 2010, not sure why I hadn’t posted it.


“Andean winds blow dense clouds of fog in waves over steep mountain crags carpeted with hundreds of species of tropical plants that trap in moisture here high above Colombia’s capital. Water is everywhere in this treasure trove, held in place by an intricate fabric woven by Mother Nature This is nature’s water factory; water springs from the rugged paramos (neo-tropical ecosystems) of Chingaza and Sumapaz national parks and travels through underground veins to the Ghuza and San Rafael reservoirs, supplying millions of people in the metropolitan area of Bogota.

As we travel deeper into the mountains, fog drapes itself over the secrets of the forest, intermittently allowing us to see an impenetrable mass of bushes mid trees, silhouettes of deer in the ravines, grassy plateaus on the riverbanks, and lagoons flanked by the perpetual green of the Chingaza National Park and Nature Reserve.

We are almost 10,000 feet above sea level. Our guide, Luis Alberto Espino, tells us that over 80 percent of the people of Bogota get their drinking water from this area. “The Chingaza paramo is like a sponge that stores rainwater and then releases it slowly over time,” he says, as we walk hunched over through low vegetation.

The magic of this hydrological system is evident all around us. Water flows permanently from moss-covered rocks, feeding wetlands and reed-filled bogs, and filtering into crystal clear streams that supply the entire watershed. The paramo ecosystem consists of wetlands and high grassland areas which, if well preserved, can create a soil structure ideal for storing water in the dry season and regulating the water cycle throughout the year by releasing it little by little to the lower areas.

Espino squeezes a handful of moss his hand and water streams out. “This, in infinite quantities, is what allows the accumulation of about 8.8 billion cubic feet of water in the Chuza Reservoir,” says the smiling ranger. From this immense artificial lake in El Chingaza, the water is taken downhill through a large underground aqueduct to the San Rafael Reservoir located in the heights of Bogota, in La Calera. The reservoir holds enough water to supply the capital city with water for three to five months in case of drought.

On the way back to Bogota, I visit the Botanic Gardens where I meet Julia Miranda, the general director of Colombian National Park Service. Under the shadow of huge palm trees, Miranda explains the value of the paramos with a certain pride. “Colombia has the advantage of having large extensions of relatively well-preserved paramo areas,” she says. “And it’s important to look at how important this is for a city like Bogota and for a region like the Savannah of Bogota. Bogota is a city with more than eight million people, and it gets its water primarily from two national parks, Chingaza National Park and Sumapaz National Park. In addition to the people in Bogota and the Savannah of Bogota, sixteen municipalities are benefitting from this water.” – Source


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