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Deepest aqueduct in South America growing crops in the desert

Staff Writer | September 26, 2016
Two thousand meters under the Andean range, South America’s deepest aqueduct carries water that will grow thousands of hectares of fruit and vegetables.
Innovative   In one of the most desertic and underdeveloped regions
That will be in one of Peru’s most desertic and underdeveloped regions. This new development project is set to grow exponentially as its first crops are exported to North America and Europe.

The aqueduct, one of the largest engineering works ever undertaken in Peru, travels 20 kilometers (12 miles) under the Andean mountains, diverting the waters of the Huancabamba river towards Peru’s northern coast to irrigate 43,500 hectares of crops planted in the desert, as EFE witnessed during a field visit.

The Olmos irrigation project is located 900 km (560 mi) to the north of Lima and required a $600 million budget, the investment director of the project’s concessionary company Odebrecht Latinvest, Alfonso Pinillos, explained to EFE.

The tunnel, conceived some 90 years ago by British engineer Charles Sutton, was completed in 2012 to alleviate the hydric resources deficit in the Olmos dry valleys in the Lambayeque region, which sees an average annual rainfall of under 25 liters per square meter.

Pinillos explained that the tunnel perforation, with a 4.8-meter diameter borehole and a capacity of 42 cubic meters per second (1,483 cu.ft/s), was developed using a custom-made tunneler and assembled piece-by-piece inside the tunnel.

No women were involved in the boring phase as a sign of “respect” to an old Andean mining tradition so the Pachamama (“Mother Nature” in the Quechua language) “doesn’t get jealous.” Its progress had to deal with unexpected rock collapses that delayed work and increased costs.

Once completed, the water will flow from the Limon dam, a wall 330 m (1,082 ft) long and 43 m (141 ft) high built across the Huancabamba river to dam 30 million m3; the starting point of a 65-km (40-mi) route that will carry water to the crops.

After covering 20 km underground, the tunnel becomes a waterfall into the Lajas river, 30 km (18.6 mi) later it is collected by irrigation channels leading to another dam that then proceeds to distribute the water to the fields.

Lands once arid now boast 12,000 Ha of produce: Sugar cane, grapes, avocados, mangoes, asparagus and even cranberries, and now employs 4,000 workers, according to Odebrecht’s irrigation concession development manager, Juan Carlos Urteaga.

Urteaga estimated the project will generate 30,000 direct and 100,000 indirect jobs once its 43,500 Ha are fully operational. This will also require building a nearby new city for 70,000 people.

The project covers 5,500 Ha of Valle Viejo de Olmos’ farmlands and 38,000 Ha purchased by Peruvian, Chilean, U.S. and European corporations with an estimated production of around $650 million.

Within the first group, a farming co-op (Asociacion Agropecuaria La Juliana) told EFE they plan to ship their first 32.4-ton banana crop container to Holland, which is worth around $9,000.

Among the project’s corporate partners, the Peruvian group Gloria has built a $300 million sugar refinery plant and Agro-Frusan, a U.S.-Chilean joint-venture producing 2.5 tons (5,512 lbs) of cranberries daily for export to U.S. and Canada.

This project will achieve full speed once the project’s second phase is completed, increasing by four the Limon dam’s capacity and doubling the irrigated surface to nearly 100,000 Ha.