Local Perspective: Saving the Santa Rosa River
By Cassie Sevigny
The Connections between Water and Rural Production project (CAP) investigates whether and which farmers adapt their production systems when they experience changes in rainfall, what adaptations they make, and whether these adaptations reduce income losses expected when drying occurs. Improved understanding of these responses will inform efforts by government agencies and civil society to help farmers adjust to changes in water availability. In June 2019, the CAP team visited the Agroecological Association of Rondonia (AAR), a local farmer association in the Santa Rosa community concerned with water, soil degradation and food security. The CAP researchers were led through a small section of rainforest AAR advocated to preserve along the banks of the Santa Rosa river.
The Santa Rosa River isn’t very big and is difficult to find on a map, even if you know where it is. It combines with other nearby streams to feed into Rio Jaru, Rio Ji-Parana, Rio Madeira, and finally the Amazon. This sequence of rivers is the water source for much of the state, including the very municipalities that would’ve sent their trash here had the community not acted.
Not too long ago, this spot was slated to become the municipal dump. The municipality of Ouro Preto do Oeste acquired the land in 2001. “I’ll never forget 9/11,” Assis Pereirra de Morais said, as it was “not only important for the world and also for me.” That was the day he started fighting against the dump plans. The Santa Rosa community organized with other municipalities and agencies to halt the project, but the city came back in 2011 with an even bigger proposal: a dump site for eleven cities. They brought an excavator to the site to prove the water was deep enough underground that trash wouldn’t affect it. They hit water at 1 meter deep.
The local government failed to obtain a license from the state environmental agency, so a public hearing took place. Community members, state environmental agents, and the public prosecutor, who’d seen the excavator hit water, attended the meeting with the mayor. They all opposed the dump. The mayor gave up, saying he had found another spot. Today the site remains a lush rainforest growing over a calm stream. Next door, the water supports AAR’s community agriculture projects, and tree planting helps restore more of the ecosystem.