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El Burro, a fragmented wetland in Bogotá

A wetland is an area of land which is temporarily or permanently flooded and governed by climatic factors and in constant interrelationship with the living beings that inhabit it. In Colombia, there are 31,702 wetlands, 6 of which are considered of international importance as the La Cocha Lagoon in the Province of Nariño and the Chingaza lacustrine system in the Province of Cundinamarca.
 

El Burro is located to the west of the city in the Kennedy neighborhood, in the floodplains of the Bogotá River, specifically on the Tintal sub-basin; 5 of the wetland acres are fragmented by the   Ciudad de Cali avenue.

However, the current area of El Burro is barely 11% of what it had 70 years ago, as demonstrated by a 2008 research project carried out by Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Environmental Studies Institute (IDEA, for its Spanish acronym), showing that in 1956, the area of this system had 171.54 hectares (424.000 acres).
 

Read more: What is eutrophication and how does it contaminate water? (in Spanish)

To better understand the desiccation phenomena (removal of a wetland from a land or body), the fragmentation or recovery of the ecosystems of the wetland, researchers carried out a research project entitled, “Wetland ecosystems and social imaginaries: The El Burro wetland and its transformation since the second half of the twentieth century,” to explore the relationship between social imaginaries and the transformation of urban ecosystems, using this wetland as an example.
 

For this, they rebuilt the wetland transformation process and identified the key actors, looking to detect speeches on El Burro that supported those imaginaries that backed both the narratives as the ecosystem transformation actions.
 

They discovered three imaginaries: the first is the desiccation as a benefit, evident in  Decree 40 of 1905 (on a lagoon, marsh, and swamp desiccation) which draws attention to the interest of the Government to have property and management of most temporary surface water ecosystems of the country. However, this management, far from supporting the wellbeing of these bodies of water, looked to partially or totally desiccate them by totally or partially assigning and providing the property of the land to private parties that carried out the desiccation (Law 104 of 1892). Therefore, at that moment, wetland desiccation was a national policy.
 

Although this law lost effect in 1907 when it was declared unconstitutional, by seeing the transformation process endured by the wetland during the whole century, it would seem the decree is still in force.
 

Read more: Why is it important to care for Andean tundras? (In Spanish)
 

As a product of urban development at the expense of desiccating and fragmenting the wetland, they carried out development projects, such as the Techo Horse Racing Track, in 1954; the Pio XII neighborhood, the Ciudad Kennedy and Castilla neighborhoods in the 60s; the El Condado, el Rincón de los Ángeles and Las Dos Avenidas in the 80s; the Protecho garbage transferal in 1988; the Ciudad de Cali Avenue in 1990; and the El Castillo and Villa Castilla neighborhoods in 90s.
 

The second imaginary over El Burro was considering the wetland as grassland for waste, supported by building a garbage transferral plant on the wetland. There the garbage trucks dumped the garbage of the city to be later compacted and sent to a landfill.
 

However, the city got the habit of dumping the waste of Bogotá on the wetland, making the problem bigger. According to the inhabitants of the sector, the wetland turned into a place to do what was not allowed, as there were rapes, and even human corpses were found in the area, as well as a place to sell illegal drugs and a place for illegal activities.
 

And the third imaginary is that the wetland is considered as a resource worthy of protection, supported by the National Code for Renewable Resources and Protection of the Environment through Decree-Law 2811 of 1974.
 

However, enacting this regulation did not have an impact in recovering the ecosystem, as only at the end of the 90s and 2000s when the actors changed their imaginary due to significant experiences they had with the fauna and flora of the wetland; they appealed to different mobilization and action strategies to change the perception of the wetland in the other inhabitants of the area and recover the wetland using the existing legal framework.
 

This triggered the recovery of some acres of the wetland, demarking (visualizing and preserving the terrain) and performing hydrogeomorphological restoration activities carried out by the Bogotá Waterworks Company between 2007 and 2015. Thanks to these interventions, currently part of the wetland ecosystem has been recovered, remaining working on other aspects to guarantee a more favorable environmental condition.

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